Pleasure, Power, and Profanity: John McWhorter and Jeffrey Goldberg

Headshots and names of Jeffrey Goldberg and John McWhorter with multicolor ripped paper on bottom edge

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This event is part of the 2021 PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. Visit pen.org/festival to learn more and get tickets for other events.

In the introduction to his “lively and informative” (Kirkus Reviews) new book Nine Nasty Words, internationally acclaimed linguist John McWhorter writes, “Profanity will always intrigue us with its distinctive status and flavor amidst the ‘real’ words that make up our language. They are both not real words and realer than most others.” Across the book, he asks, “What chose them to give vent to our ids? How have our curse words transformed along with our taboos? And how can these words teach us about language and linguistics in general?” With these inquiries, he traces how nine swear words and our relationships to them have evolved over time, and the power they can wield in society, in a work that asserts “there’s more to profanity than discomfort, catharsis, and seduction.” The Atlantic editor in chief and National Magazine Award for Reporting recipient Jeffrey Goldberg will join McWhorter to examine our history with taboo language from the Middle Ages to today.

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Presented in collaboration with Strand Book Store.

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John McWhorter headshotJohn McWhorter is a professor of linguistics at Columbia University, Contributing Editor at The Atlantic, and host of Slate‘s language podcast Lexicon Valley. He is the author of over twenty books, most recently Words on the Move, The Creole Debate, Nine Nasty Words, and The Elect. He has also authored five audiovisual sets on language for The Great Courses.

Jeffrey Goldberg headshotJeffrey Goldberg is the editor in chief of The Atlantic. He joined The Atlantic in 2007 as a national correspondent and was named the 164-year-old magazine’s 14th editor in chief in October 2016. During his editorship, The Atlantic has set new audience and subscription records, and its journalistic reach has become global. In 2020, he was named Editor of the Year by Adweek, which also named The Atlantic “Magazine of the Year.” Digiday recently stated that The Atlantic “is enjoying its most relevant cultural moment since the 19th century.”

Before joining The Atlantic, Goldberg served as the Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, and was also a writer for The New York Times Magazine. He began his career as a police reporter for The Washington Post. Goldberg is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. A former fellow of the American Academy in Berlin, he also served as a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and as the Distinguished Visiting Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Goldberg is the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Magazine Award for Reporting, the Daniel Pearl Prize for Reporting, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists Prize for best investigative reporting.


About Strand Book Store

Located on 12th and Broadway in New York City, the Strand Book Store is a family-owned, iconic literary destination with more than 90 years of history and 18 miles of books to prove it. Its events feature some of today’s most interesting and provocative authors. Its unparalleled inventory of 2.5 million new, used, and rare books and locally designed totes, gifts, and apparel makes it easy and exciting to get lost in the stacks.

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