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  • Arts & Culture
  • Issue 40

My Word

In praise of cursing. Words by Robert Ito. Photograph by Charlotte Lapalus.

Falstaff was a master of the imaginative curse. In Henry IV, Part I, the wayward knight calls Prince Hal and others starvelings, whoreson caterpillars, bacon-fed knaves, and bull’s pizzles. 

To many, Falstaff is just the sort of individual one might expect to curse so often and well: crude and hot-tempered, an inveterate drunkard and all-around scoundrel. But what if swearing weren’t the mark of an impoverished character or intellect, but rather the sign of a great communicator? According to Melissa Mohr, author of Holy Shit: A Brief History of Swearing, letting loose with the occasional expletive is an excellent way of communicating meaning. When you swear at someone,

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