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Swearing constitutes a species of human behaviour so little understood, even by its most devoted practitioners, that an examination of its meaning and significance is long overdue.

Anthropologist Ashley Montagu, writing in 1967, predicted that swearing would develop new vigour, and even a life of its own, with cross-fertilsation between social groups producing new swear-words of un-imagined colour and tone. He was only partly right though.

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