By Jonny Lupsha, Current Events Writer
Using swear words benefits us in several ways, CNN reported. Cursing can help with pain tolerance, can be a sign of people who lie less, and so on. The root words for terms describing “bad words” are also interesting.
According to CNN, the known benefits of using swear words keep piling up, despite earlier beliefs to the contrary. “Swearing may be a sign of verbal superiority, studies have shown, and may provide other possible rewards as well,” the article said.
The CNN article lists five apparent reasons that swearing may be beneficial: People who use the most swear words tend to have a greater verbal fluency, a sign of intelligence; cursing is associated with people who lie less often; while cursing, people have a greater tolerance of physical pain; cursing comes from the creativity side of the brain; and cursing allows people to vent while avoiding repercussions of angry behavior.
While the origins of certain curse words remain elusive at times, the words that describe the meaning of curse words are understood through the etymology, the study, of words.
Wickedness of Curse Words
Many words exist in English that describe different kinds of wickedness, including words that help us understand where the stigma against curse words comes from. One such term is “malediction.”
“A little knowledge of morphology, our language’s meaning system, can help us better deduce and remember a word’s meaning,” said Dr. Kevin Flanigan, Professor of Education in the Literacy Department at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, in a lecture for The Great Courses.
We can use morphology to break “malediction” into the prefix “mal” and the main word “diction.”
“This prefix comes from the Latin word ‘malus,’ and it means bad, badly, or evil,” he said. “‘Diction’ can refer to the distinctiveness of pronunciation in speech. In fact, the Latin root ‘dic‘ or ‘dict‘ means ‘speak,’ generating words like ‘dictate,’ speaking or telling someone what to write; and ‘dictator,’ one who speaks, telling you what to do.”
When you put them together and make “malediction,” you get something like “evil speech” or “curse.” Dr. Flanigan noted that the opposite of this is “benediction,” with the prefix “bene” meaning “good or well.” English speakers who are religious may recognize the word “benediction” as a blessing given by an officiating minister at the end of a service, since it means “good speech.”
Latin Root Word Mal
The prefix “mal” shows up in more than a dozen popular words in English, such as malice, malevolent, and malcontent. In the digital age, computer users have become increasingly familiar with another: malware. However, by using an analytical strategy of looking at similar words, we can decipher what malware means without hopping onto a search engine.
“When looking at a word that you don’t know, it’s often helpful to think of related words that are spelled the same, or a similar word that you do know,” Dr. Flanigan said. “So, if you didn’t know the word malware, you might think of a related word that you did know, like software.
“So, if software refers to the programs used to direct the operation of a computer, then you can figure out what malware is—literally, evil software, or software intended to do harm to a computer, like a computer virus.”
And as anyone whose computer has fallen prey to malware will attest, computer viruses are a good enough cause to curse a blue streak.
This article contains material taught by Dr. Kevin Flanigan for his course Building a Better Vocabulary. Dr. Flanigan is a Professor of Education in the Literacy Department at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. He earned his B.A. in History from Mary Washington College, his M.Ed. from James Madison University, and his M.Ed. and Ph.D. in Reading Education from the University of Virginia.