Coprolalia: The reason behind involuntary profane outbursts
Obscene language is a big part of everybody’s daily lives – whether we like to believe it or not. Perhaps you banged your toe against the wall, stepped on a lego barefoot, are really upset at a particular person, or situation – you’ve probably screamed out a cuss word once in your life. Maybe, you’re just a really good person, so you think of it instead. Yet, ever wonder about the people who have absolutely no control over their profane outbursts and excessive cussing? They may have coprolalia; a symptom related to Tourette’s syndrome.
What is Coprolalia?
The word coprolalia stems from the Greek word κόπρος (kopros), which means “feces”, and λαλιά (lalia) which means “to talk”. So, when you put these two words together, you get “feces talk” or in other words – something a little bit more profane that wouldn’t be appropriate for this blog post.
It is a medical term used to explain involuntary vocal outbursts that are profane in nature. These outbursts usually include derogatory remarks and socially unacceptable remarks.
Normally, it is a common symptom of Tourette’s syndrome. Tourette’s syndrome is a medical condition that has its onset in childhood. Tourette’s syndrome is characterized by facial tics, grunting, compulsive arm movements, shouting and groaning. However, even though coprolalia is a symptom of Tourette’s, it only occurs in about 10% of people who are diagnosed with the syndrome.
The obsession with performing, (or not performing), the inappropriate behavior provokes the urge to perform the inappropriate behavior and vice versa. – Ken Shyminsky, former vice president of the Greater Toronto Chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Foundation of Canada.
What Causes Coprolalia?
It has been linked, that the same “faulty wiring” of the inhibitory mechanism that is responsible for involuntary movements of those with Tourette’s syndrome are what cause coprolalia. To simplify it further, the reason is neurobiological, and nothing more.
Characteristics of Coprolalia
The characteristics of coprolalia can be a little bit hard for someone who doesn’t understand the disorder to pick up on the characteristics. That is because the individual with the disorder will blurt out culturally and socially insensitive words and phrases. However, when the individual affected with the disorder does this, when paying close attention to their voice, that can be a key indicator. Most of the obscenities are normally spoken in a louder voice, flat tone, or a different pitch than in a normal, regular conversation. The individual may also repeat the word or phrase continuously, which can later cause distress to the people around them, and the person themselves.
Coprolalia and the Brain
Even though cursing is frowned upon in society, psychologist Timothy Jay thinks that the overuse of curse words isn’t something to be ashamed of. Timothy Jay and Kristin Jay of Marist college came up with an interesting hypothesis that those who are notorious for using curse words are more likely to have spectacular vernacular.
In one experiment, Jay gathered 43 participants (30 women) and asked them to give off every curse word they had knowledge of in sixty seconds. Shortly after, the participants were then asked to give as many animal names as they possibly could in a sixty-second interval. The Jays used animal names as indicators of an individual’s overall interest in language and vocabulary. Another similar experiment was conducted, but instead, participants were asked to write down as many curse words they knew starting with the letter “A”. Along with that task, they also completed the FAS tasks to assess language fluency.
In all, they both found that being able to quickly generate curse words, and having knowledge on a vast amount isn’t a sign of language deficiency. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The Jays found in their small, sample sized experiment that taboo fluency is positively correlated with other measures of verbal fluency.
Coprolalia and other disorders
It surprisingly doesn’t discriminate against other disorders. It can manifest itself in other mental illnesses besides Tourette’s Syndrome. It can be seen in other mental disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and in rare instances: schizophrenia, and another psychiatric disorder called Lesch-Nyhan syndrome.
Coprolalia vs. Copropraxia
Instead of an individual having vocalized outbursts, copropraxia describes involuntary tics that make an individual perform inappropriate touching, obscene gestures, or anything else deemed as offensive.
Copropraxia is a very rare symptom to see an individual who has been diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome.
Looking into the Outbursts in Coprolalia
Most vocalized outbursts don’t make sense. Vocalized outbursts can be meaningless, complex, and sometimes funny. Someone can shout something as silly as, “My feet are ticklish! My feet are ticklish!” It is imperative that people who are around those with TS don’t take any offense to inappropriate remarks. The reason for this is because it doesn’t necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs or thoughts of the individual.
The treatment for this rare symptom isn’t as easy as someone else telling the affected person to “hush,” or respond with hostility. The medical treatment to help with the profane outbursts is to inject the affected person with botulinum toxin near the vocal cords. This injection helps with quieting the verbal tics. Yet, like most would agree, medications such as this are absolutely last resort. It has been found that therapy and dopamine blockers can be as equally effective. Since Tourette’s Syndrome is a neurological disorder, anti-seizure medications can be helpful to some people.
As we know, Tourette’s Syndrome can co-occur with other disorders such as OCD, and ADHD. If an individual has these other underlying disorders, treatment will focus on handling those, along with the coprolalia.
So, as we can see here, like most therapy based treatments, or medications, it is not a one size fits all. It depends on the severity of the syndrome, and how the individual responds to particular treatments.
Do you know anyone with coprolalia? Do you have coprolalia? What is a normal day like for you? Let us know in the comments below! 🙂
Crew, B. (2015). People who curse a lot have better vocabularies than those who don’t. Retrieved from https://www.sciencealert.com/people-who-curse-a-lot-have-better-vocabularies-than-those-who-don-t-study-finds
GoodTherapy.Org. (n.d). Coprolalia. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/coprolalia
MedicineNet.Com. (n.d). Medical definition of coprolalia. Retrieved from https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=12349
New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome (n.d). Coprolalia, Part 1: The nature of coprolalia
Pearl, S.L & Cohen, J.E. (n.d). Understanding Coprolalia: A misunderstood symptom.
Jessica is a New York City native who graduated from undergrad with her B.S in Psychology. While her focus is steadily on trauma, and how it manifests itself in different cultural and religious contexts, she enjoys writings articles about the brain, its functions, and other mental disorders. Jessica enjoys educating those on all things psychology, neuroscience, as well as sharing her experiences. Any questions you have, she encourages you to not withhold them! Start a conversation with her under her blog posts, she will be more than delighted to chat with you!