A long article by Natalie Angier in the science section of the NY Times discusses the ubiquity and primordial nature of cussing; apparently even chimps do it:
Indeed, chimpanzees engage in what appears to be a kind of cursing match as a means of venting aggression and avoiding a potentially dangerous physical clash.
Frans de Waal, a professor of primate behavior at Emory University in Atlanta, said that when chimpanzees were angry “they will grunt or spit or make an abrupt, upsweeping gesture that, if a human were to do it, you’d recognize it as aggressive.”
Guy Deutscher is quoted to the effect that “the earliest writings, which date from 5,000 years ago, include their share of off-color descriptions of the human form and its ever-colorful functions,” reminding me that it’s high time I reported on his book. And it absolutely fascinated me that after describing the physiological arousal produced by exposure to cursing (“Their skin conductance patterns spike, the hairs on their arms rise, their pulse quickens, and their breathing becomes shallow”), the article continues:
Interestingly, said Kate Burridge, a professor of linguistics at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, a similar reaction occurs among university students and others who pride themselves on being educated when they listen to bad grammar or slang expressions that they regard as irritating, illiterate or déclassé.
I wish I understood that overreaction, which is one of the main windmills at which I tilt.
(Thanks for the link, Bonnie!)