Swearing, epithets and other linguistic taboos are a fascinating yet poorly understood aspect of language, and I have yet to meet a person who isn't intensely curious about the phenomenon. The topic is far from frivolous: its implications range from the limits of free speech in a democracy to the processing of emotion in the human brain. In researching this topic for a forthcoming book, I found that the deepest and most enjoyable works in this area were two books by the linguists Keith Allan and Kate Burridge. So I was puzzled by Roy Harris's curiously dyspeptic review of their Forbidden Words (Books, February 9).
Harris finds nothing to like in their delightful book, and complains about their terminology, their willingness to analyse the topic in original ways, their psychological orientation and their (wise) decision to ignore Freud's wacky theories. He accuses them of using the term "taboo"
too loosely, yet I can make no sense of his claim that the most widespread taboo is "that against falsehood". Harris's glib and grouchy dismissal does your readers a disservice.
Register to continue
Get a month's unlimited access to THE content online. Just register and complete your career summary.
Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:
- Sign up for the editor's highlights
- Receive World University Rankings news first
- Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
- Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Or subscribe for unlimited access to:
- Unlimited access to news, views, insights & reviews
- Digital editions
- Digital access to THE’s university and college rankings analysis
Already registered or a current subscriber? Sign in now