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Broadcaster: BBC TWO
Year: 2011
Genre: Literature, Documentary

Review by: Lerah Mae Barcenilla

URL: http://bobnational.net/record/286321

Fry’s Planet Word is a five-part series, first broadcast on BBC TWO in October 2011. The series explores the beauty of language, “coming to understand how we learn, write and sometimes lose it, and why it defines us.” In this third instalment Uses and Abuses, Fry discusses how swearing plays an important part in human communication, exploring the origins of swearing, why we swear and even the biological aspects of the act of swearing itself.

This is particularly relevant to students working on variation and change in English. It might prove a good starting point for a potential group project topic for the first assessment of this module, for example the representations of swearing in the media.

Although some may find the abundance of swear words in this episode amusing, a note of warning: since this episode focuses on the act of swearing, it does include a LOT of swearing and potentially offensive language.

It is worth watching the whole episode, but here are particular scenes of note:

  • 0:01:55 – ‘taboo’ words in other languages, cultural differences
  • 0:03:25 – Professor Steven Pinker (author of The Language Instinct (1994) and How the Mind Works (1997), among others) discusses explanations for why certain words are considered ‘taboo’.
  • 0:16:07 – reaction to swearing and how this might affect an individual
  • 0:18:25 – connection between swearing and pain
  • 0:26:40 – swearing in the media, The Thick of It (2005-2012)
  • 0:46:35 – euphemisms

This hour-long episode may provide students with a starting point on how to approach this particular topic. Guests such as Steven Pinker have published books which may be relevant to studying aspects of the English language. Certain scenes from this episode provides examples of how the media portrays swearing, which may be an effective alternative of study.

The BBC’s page on this series is available here. The IMDB entry on this episode is here.