23 October, 2020

The Blue Thesaurus

Why swear when you can do without verbal catharsis

Illustration by Sorit
The Blue Thesaurus

‘Ch*******m sulphate’, Vidya Balan’s profane biochemical combo in Ishqiya must go into the new Indian thesaurus of swear words. The two terrible and terrific words had just the right measure of sexiness and cynicism, enough to turn poison into passion.

The cathartic act of swearing—achieving control by displaying the absolute lack of it—has just gone mainstream. Recite it like bad poetry, whisper it like gossip, SMS it in crude Hinglish or sing it in the bathroom. Allegedly, some even take it to the boardroom as an emergency shot of cocaine to be snorted when emphasis must parade as power. Others employ it full-time when they are at their imaginative worst or poetic best. In universities worldwide, swearing has always been a compulsory skill, never mind that it may actually reveal a lack of talent. Now, it is acceptably haute and hot.

So what happened to us good Indians, who judged obscenities as moral slips of the tongue? When Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker’s book The Stuff of...



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