Cursing and Conversation #480

June 29, 2018

Image from 2il org

Ever notice how the bits of language we use all the time are often the bits we study the least? Like 'ums' and 'uhs', the way conversations flow and of course curse words! Today we're taking a deeper look under the hood of the conversation machine, and inspecting it's sweary bits and bobs a little more closely than usual. First we'll take a closer look at the flow of a typical conversation with Nick Enfield, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sydney, about his book "How We Talk: The Inner Workings of Conversation" and examine the signalling we use to keep a conversation running smoothly. And we'll dive into the science of cursing with Emma Byrne, author of the new book "Swearing is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language".

Note: In the official feed, this episode has bleeped out the curse words mentioned. If you'd like the uncensored version, the Soundcloud player embedded in the show notes above features the explicit, unbleeped version.


  • Nick Enfield
  • Emma Byrne

Guest Bios

Nick Enfield

Nick Enfield is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sydney and Director of the Post-Truth Initiative and the Sydney Social Sciences and Humanities Advanced Research Centre. He is an expert on language, culture, and mind, with a focus on social interaction, and with field expertise in the languages of mainland Southeast Asia, especially Laos. He has published more than 150 scholarly articles and reviews and nearly 20 books. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the LA Times, the Guardian, the Wall Street Journal, Science magazine, New Scientist, and the Times Literary Supplement. His most recent book is "How We Talk: The Inner Workings of Conversation".

Emma Byrne

Emma Byrne is an honest-to-goodness robot scientist who, when she's not developing intelligent systems, writes for Forbes, the FT and Global Business Magazine. She also frequently appears on Sky News and the BBC talking about the future of artificial intelligence and robotics. Her interest in neuroscience led to her first popular science book: "Swearing is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language". Her pub, conference and convention talks lead to packed houses and requests for more.

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