App 2 English – English
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“The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature” by Steven Pinker
Verbs for sex show a curious pattern. The anthropologist Ashley Montagu referred to “fuck” as “a transitive verb for the most transitive of human actions,” and therein lies a tale. Think of the transitive verbs for sex – the ones that fit in the slot “John verbed Mary”: …
They’re not very nice, are they? The verbs are jocular or disrespectful at best and offensive at worst. So what are the verbs that we do use in polite company when referring to the act of love? …
They are intransitive, every one of them.
The polite idioms have a number of telltale grammatical traits. By lacking a distinctive verb root, they fail to specify an action with a characteristic manner of motion or kind of effect. By lacking a direct object, they specify no entity that is impinged upon or caused to change. Moreover, they are semantically symmetrical: …
The semantics of the non-sexual verbs that behave in this way implies joint voluntary action, like “dance”, “talk”, “trade”, and “work”: John danced with Mary, John and Mary danced, and so on.
Why should the choice of a word mandate something as abstruse as a grammatical construction? …
… So in the mental model presupposed by the polite verbs for sex, sex is an activity, manner unspecified, that two people jointly engage in.
Abstruse [æbˈstruːs] – (adj.) difficult to understand; obscure;
an abstruse philosophical debate;
an abstruse theory;
songs with abstruse lyrics;
Dwayne’s mind boggled in the futile effort to penetrate the abstruse complexity of an esoteric form of thinking that was altogether foreign to him.
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