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Shaping the English language, one expletive at a time




Manager John Farrell #53 of the Boston Red Sox argues an obstruction call with Home Plate Umpire Dana DeMuth #32 in the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Three of the 2013 World Series at Busch Stadium on October 26, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri.
Manager John Farrell #53 of the Boston Red Sox argues an obstruction call with Home Plate Umpire Dana DeMuth #32 in the ninth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Three of the 2013 World Series at Busch Stadium on October 26, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri.
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

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*()!@, %#^&, @$$, )!-$*&%^, or even ~*@(\&$#?<!+ - how do we understand profanity in the context of the English language? Jonathon Green, author of "The Vulgar Tongue," explores the history of English slang and how it has evolved into an essential, versatile part of the common vocabulary.

A lexicographer by trade and the author of "Green's Dictionary of Slang," Green defends profane words as a part of our cultural history. These terms that have become embedded in the vernacular often cover profane themes such as sex, drugs and crime that have originated everywhere from sporting arenas to tightly-knit ethnic communities. By looking at how the use of these words has changed over hundreds of years, from British beggar books to modern times, "The Vulgar Tongue" adds to the history of profanity and celebrates its impact on our language and culture. How do you view the place of profanity and vulgarity in language and culture? Does slang erode English, or does it make the language richer?

Guest:

Jonathon Green, British lexicographer of slang and writer on the history of alternative cultures. His latest book is "The Vulgar Tongue: Green's History of Slang” (Oxford University Press)