I really enjoyed reading John McWhorter's Woke Racism last month. So I decided to give this book a try. It's on a totally different topic, but equally in McWhorter's wheelhouse as a linguistics professor at Columbia.
What are the nine nasty words? Well, some of them I'm OK with typing, others not. (Caveat lector, McWhorter spells them all out.)
3. the F-word;
6. dick (and the female equivalent);
7. the N-word;
8. the other F-word (and the female equivalent);
I think that's (more or less) right; the book mentions many more profanities. Like a good linguistic scholar, McWhorter describes their possible/probable origins, their use in literature, pop culture, even legal filings. (Babe Ruth's dad makes an appearance right at the beginning.) There's fascinating detective work on how the words moved in and out of "respectable" discourse. There are all sorts of citations, many drawn from McWhorter's own "lived experience". (He hung out with some pretty salty folks.) The oeuvre of "dirty blues" singer Lucille Bogan turns out to be a rich source of smut. The rationale of ending the N-word with "-er" vs. "-a" turns out to be surprisingly nuanced. When was bitch first spoken in a movie? The answer may shock you!
Something of which I was unaware: out on the Left Coast, the phrase "flip a bitch" is used to describe making an illegal U-turn. McWhorter notes how odd and wonderful this is:
A word Iron Age Europeans used to refer to female dogs is now used on the other side of the other side of the world in California to refer to making illegal U-turns.
And, reader, there is page after page of this stuff. Above all, the book communicates McWhorter's enthusiasm and joy in accumulating facts, establishing lexicographic histories and relationships, and telling great stories. It's a word guy's version of what Feynman called "the pleasure of finding things out."