by Paul Niquette
Copyright ©1996 Resource Books All rights reserved.

ordure n. 

  1. Excrement, dung. 
  2. Something offensive; filth. 
Victims of certain types of brain injuries suffer the total loss of their vocabularies.  They can only speak gibberish.  For some the loss is not total.  Mixed with unintelligible utterances are clearly enunciated words.  Swear words.

A most appealing theory has it that swear words do not reside in the same part of the brain as the rest of vocabulary. Those strong expressions that don't belong in polite company don't belong in the cerebral cortex either, apparently.  Perhaps swear words are stored in some region deep in the "ancient" brain.  They may not be words at all but slightly elaborated primal screams.

I have seized upon this theory, readily acceding to the criticism that it serves to rationalize my own vulgarities. Cussing is essential to my mental wellness, relieving in harmless expletives the periodic anguishes of my urban soul.

Might we not re-classify swearing alongside aerobic exercise and high-fiber diet: a healthful vice, harming neither lung nor liver?
How does the brain decide which word to put where?  By some unconscious process, we assign "excrement" to the cerebral cortex while its more therapeutic alternative winds up in the hypothalamus (or wherever we scream from).

It would be handy if we could make the decision consciously.  For example, the word "mucus" might seem to offer health benefits in place of more scatalogical choices.  "Don't give me any mucus," we might then say.  Somehow that's no less offensive to the listener and hardly a balm to the speaker.

Come to think of it, there are plenty of attempts to de-vulgarize swearing.

  • "That legislation is in deep doo-doo," has been uttered by Republicans.
  • "We're up to our keester in yogurt," sounds almost Mormon.
  • "Horse hockey!" is suitable for prime time.
They do not serve well as soul-restoring cries, though.  Not taboo enough.
  • "What a crock of ordure!" just won't do.

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