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Cursing is associated with the limbic system.
December 6, 2008 1:11 PM   Subscribe

Physicians reported a deaf man with Tourette's who used sign language to spell out obscenities during fits of coprolalia.

Tragically and hopefully this gets us closer to understanding how your brain processes language.
posted by vapidave (34 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Tragically and hopefully this gets us closer to understanding how your brain processes language.

Fuckin 'A, man. Good article, thanks for the informative reading. :P
posted by Dark Messiah at 1:21 PM on December 6, 2008


A 2005 article about a 1999 journal article? That's the best you could do about fucking Tourette Syndrome and coprolalia?
posted by Plutor at 1:22 PM on December 6, 2008


This is entirely unsurprising.

We know that Tourette's interacts with the brain's language producing systems, because in coprlalia, sufferers don't say random things, they daythe worst things they know to say.

And we know that deaf people co-op the language producing systems to drive their finger and hand muscles instead of their throat and tongue muscles.

Visually:
Hearing person: Dirty words -> Speech production system -> motor system (throat and tongue)
Deaf person: Dirty words -> Speech production system -> motor system (hands and fingers)

Hearing Tourette's person: Torette's activation of ->Dirty words -> Speech production system -> motor system (throat and tongue)
Deaf Tourette's person: Torette's activation of ->Dirty words -> Speech production system -> motor system (hands and fingers)

Not to minimize this at all, it's great to have confirmation. But if you see mental processes as a bunch of modules operating on each other, passing messages and co-opting other processes as tools, it's unsurprising once you know that deaf people re-purpose the same speech production module by adjusting what it outputs to, and Tourette's targets not just any speech production, but specifically production of offensive sounds and phrases.
posted by orthogonality at 1:36 PM on December 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


To make it clear I don't think the syndrome or the symptom are either hilarious or unimportant, I had a close friend in at summer camp with Tourette Syndrome. When I met him, he had this habit of making a single, loud, high-pitched "bark" noise at strange times. At the time, it just seemed like one of those weird personality quirks that nerdy ten-year-olds sometimes have. I visited him once or twice during the school year, and I think I learned he had been diagnosed with the disease, but this was before I had heard of it, even in the popular-culture "swearing a lot = Tourette" sense.

The following summer, he had it bad. He'd have fits as violent as full-on grand mal seizures, kicking and screaming, frequently several times a day. And unlike epilepsy, he'd be fully conscious during every episode. Some days were worse than others, and on the worse days he'd wear a helmet to keep from injuring himself. As a pre-teen I felt it was embarrassing to be around during his tics, but looking back I can't even imagine what it must have been like for him. He didn't just have it for the eight weeks at summer camp, he had to deal with the exact same symptoms at school. While in a quiet environment (like a movie theater) he could suppress the fits in the same way you can suppress -- although not fully prevent -- a sneeze (his metaphor), but when he did that, it would make them that much worse when he later relaxed his concentration.

The third summer I knew him, his fits were so bad that he left camp to go home before the end of the session.

After that, I think we both sort of outgrew summer camp. (At least I did. I wouldn't be surprised if he just couldn't go back after the memories of being such an unwilling public spectacle.) I exchanged phone calls and emails with him once or twice, but it was several years until I saw him again. Our senior year in High School, our youth groups both attended the same weekend retreat. I remembered quickly why we were friends to begin with -- his dry, geeky sense of humor and interests overlapped very much with mine. We had a great time. In the time since I had last seen him, the physical tics had subsided, but they had been replaced by typical coprolalia. (Worse yet, they manifested at possibly the most inopportune times possible. At the beginning of the weekend, the organizer of the event was on stage, telling the attendees that there was a person there with Tourette Syndrome. She was asking everyone to be understanding and respectful. Somehow, in the space of a period, my friend yelled at the top of his lungs: "BITCH!" It was several seconds until anyone's brain caught up to what had just happened.)

I saw him again, not much later, and the coprolalia had itself mutated quite strangely. He developed thirty-second-long rants that weren't so profanity-laced as they were simply vulgar. This of what Denis Leary might say if you sucker-punched him on the street.

It's been a while since I've seen or talked to him. Maybe I should look him up.
posted by Plutor at 1:43 PM on December 6, 2008 [7 favorites]


Oh man, coprolalia is basically my favorite word. Doesn't it literally mean "shit-talking", though? I could have sworn that the -lalia suffix has something to do with the tongue.

We need a new term for spontaneously signing dirty words. What's the latin transliteration of "flinging poop"?
posted by tehloki at 1:48 PM on December 6, 2008 [4 favorites]


My grandma would have washed his hands out with soap.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:01 PM on December 6, 2008 [6 favorites]


If you suffer from this illness I would recommend NOT travelling to SE Asia. the locals might not all know how to speak english, but they do know the swears. In Cambodia I had to talk some locals out of beating up a guy. Not much understanding of mental illnesses over there.
posted by Iax at 2:05 PM on December 6, 2008


(Worse yet, they manifested at possibly the most inopportune times possible. At the beginning of the weekend, the organizer of the event was on stage, telling the attendees that there was a person there with Tourette Syndrome. She was asking everyone to be understanding and respectful. Somehow, in the space of a period, my friend yelled at the top of his lungs: "BITCH!" It was several seconds until anyone's brain caught up to what had just happened.)

I am going straight to hell for laughing at this.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:06 PM on December 6, 2008 [8 favorites]


!@#$*
posted by joe lisboa at 2:12 PM on December 6, 2008


cool article, thanks for sharing
posted by joe lisboa at 2:12 PM on December 6, 2008


A friend of mine had this. She would bark or make a sound as though she were clearing her throat. This went on for few a months. I thought I was doing something wrong whenever I heard her do the clearing her throat sound. Finally, I asked her if something was wrong and she told me about her Tourette Syndrome. Her confessing didn't faze me none. A friend is a friend in my book.
posted by doctorschlock at 2:22 PM on December 6, 2008


Plutor, can you try to repost that article's information? The link is bad, at least for me.

It's a strange day for me when I see the Hopkins News-Letter cited as a news source, particularly somewhere respectable like the Blue.
posted by knile at 2:25 PM on December 6, 2008


"Coprolalia"? Parsing it out to the Greek roots, that literally means "shit babbling". Apparently it's a real word (although Firefox marks it as a misspelling/unknown word), but it almost seems like someone's idea of a joke to coin that word to describe profane Tourette's outbursts. Couldn't they have come up with something that didn't involve poop?
posted by DecemberBoy at 2:58 PM on December 6, 2008


knile: "Plutor, can you try to repost that article's information? The link is bad, at least for me."

Here's the abstract on PubMed: "Sign language tics in a prelingually deaf man", Movement Disorder. 2000 Mar;15(2):318-20.

Here's another article describing a similar case in a seven-year-old: "Gilles de la Tourette syndrome in a child with congenital deafness.", European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 2001 Dec;10(4):256-9.
posted by Plutor at 3:09 PM on December 6, 2008


Yeah, coprolalia is totally my new word.
posted by Afroblanco at 4:08 PM on December 6, 2008


Well, it sure beats coprophagia.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:57 PM on December 6, 2008


Plutor:Maybe I should look him up.

That shouldn't be hard. I imagine there aren't too many John GoddamnshitcockJones' in the phone book.
posted by dr_dank at 5:11 PM on December 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


There is a chef who works at an expensive restaurant who has Tourette's. The restaurant has a kitchen that is very much part of the dining room. It is opening night, the chef has had no outbursts, and the owner's are feeling pretty good about the evening. Suddenly, the chef has an outburst that offends and silences the crowd. A bald man -- remembering how moved he was at seeing high school kids shave their heads to show solidarity with a classmate who was going through chemotherapy -- decides to show solidarity with the man who has Tourette's. The bald man's best friend is the first to figure out what the bald man is doing and jumps in next. Then two of the other owner's do their best to join in. It is all very moving.

The clip is here.
posted by flarbuse at 5:55 PM on December 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


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posted by brain_drain at 6:01 PM on December 6, 2008 [3 favorites]


*moves hand in circle over chest*
posted by brain_drain at 6:01 PM on December 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


tehloki: "We need a new term for spontaneously signing dirty words."

I guess you could go with coprophalangia, but "shit fingering" might not have the connotation you were hoping for.
posted by team lowkey at 6:05 PM on December 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


My deaf neighbor continually talks to himself in sign language. I recognize the sign for asshole, which he usually directs towards my house.
posted by MrMoonPie at 6:44 PM on December 6, 2008 [2 favorites]


Well, it sure beats coprophagia.

Or coprophilia. Why is it that coprophiles are sexually attracted to poop, and pedophiles are sexually attracted to children, but bibliophiles aren't sexually attracted to books and audiophiles aren't sexually attracted to stereo systems? Didn't classical Greek distinguish between interest and sexual interest?
posted by DecemberBoy at 7:09 PM on December 6, 2008


but bibliophiles aren't sexually attracted to books

Speak for yourself

Oh god, is that ..embossed!?!
posted by The Whelk at 7:27 PM on December 6, 2008 [5 favorites]


DecemberBoy: They did, but our usage of their terms is inconsistent. It's weird, too, that a term like agape, which is often meant to suggest a nonsexual but deep love (esp. within a Christian context) and is used in modern Greek as "love" as in "I love you," would have been used by classical Greeks to refer to a lot of things, like "I love pie."
posted by exlotuseater at 9:19 PM on December 6, 2008


tehloki, here's some ideas :

shit flinging = coprojection

shit signing = coprosignia

just a thought :)
posted by liza at 10:01 PM on December 6, 2008 [1 favorite]


I remember a story a college friend told, of two deaf neighbors who had a newborn baby (baby could hear.) The baby didn't make much noise, but would open and close her little hands and flex her fingers. Sign babble, working the same way as vocal babble paves the way to speech?

So this story makes perfect sense to me.

I always wanted to know statistics for instances of RSI (repetitive strain, carpal tunnel and the like) among people who use sign as their primary mode of communication.

And I grew up near a high school for deaf kids, and always wished I knew sign, because I could see how intense their signed conversations were, how much of their emotions and their bodies they put into it.
posted by SaharaRose at 10:07 PM on December 6, 2008


Eponysterical?
posted by voltairemodern at 10:10 PM on December 6, 2008


My family used to live next door to a deaf family who had a pool. It was strange when they would have a bunch of deaf friends over for a party. There'd be no music, naturally, and no talking. The only sounds coming from the other side of the fence would be the splashing of water and that deep loud laughter.
posted by JDHarper at 10:18 PM on December 6, 2008


Now I wonder, do people who use IRC or IM heavily and also have Tourette's, involuntarily inject swearwords into the typed conversation? (At least there they can backspace over them later.) If not, why not? What about babies raised by silent monks who only communicate by SMS?
posted by hattifattener at 3:09 AM on December 7, 2008


I always wanted to know statistics for instances of RSI (repetitive strain, carpal tunnel and the like) among people who use sign as their primary mode of communication.

I don't have statistics for you, but this is a big concern for interpreters. I would guess most or all interpreters experience this at some point. I've almost never heard it discussed in the context of non-professional signers; my wild-ass guess would be that because we're not "performing", we have a lot more flexibility to take breaks as needed, sign one-handed or otherwise sloppily, and so on.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 3:22 AM on December 7, 2008


Twice in my professional career, I've had deaf people in the audience who brought along interpreters to sign for me. They helped me get in the habit of maintaining periodic eye contact with them so they could signal to me if I was going too fast, and I quickly learned that acronyms were tough for them because they had to sign them as individual letters. Since I was giving a presentation on database software, there were *plenty* of acronyms. But worse than that were the long, technical words like "polymorphism" and "polyinstantiation" since they had to be spelled out, too. At the end of one particularly challenging (for them) piece, the interpreters were positively glaring at me. I felt sorry for them.
posted by kcds at 4:57 AM on December 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


but bibliophiles aren't sexually attracted to books

With all due respect, DecemberBoy, those pages aren't going to stick themselves together.
posted by rokusan at 5:25 AM on December 7, 2008


I had a friend with Tourettes. He was older, and grew up before it was a diagnosis. His life as a child was just awful. Then he was diagnosed and his life was slightly less awful. Then he found out that pot made his Tourettes go away almost completely. Learning that was the day I started thinking that prohibition was a bad idea.

As a sign language interpreter I'm always glad to see linguists / neuroscientists remember that there are Deaf people in the world who should be studied as well.
posted by eccnineten at 9:59 AM on December 7, 2008 [2 favorites]


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