Dare to Ask: What's all the shouting about?
By PHILLIP MILANO, The Times-Union
Many times when a person is exhibiting symptoms of Tourette's syndrome, they
make sounds like loud noises or barks, or utter racial slurs or obscenities.
What would they use verbally, if these people had never heard obscenities or
Well, Tourette's isn't about saying "dirty" words, it's about saying ones
that are inappropriate to the situation. The stereotypical Tourette's sufferer
will often shout out obscenities to no one in particular, saying - - this and -
- that. An actual Tourette's sufferer is more likely to have a "favorite"
saying, as well as just randomly blurt out things that may not be obscene, but
are impolite or inappropriate given the setting.
Craig M., 21, Duncan, Canada
That particular symptom, called coprolalia, is a fairly rare one. Only about
15 percent of folks with Tourette's will display this. The urge seems to be to
say the one thing that it is most impolitic to say. If you haven't heard a slur,
you would probably substitute other phrases that are also considered impolite -
"Stupid!" for example. The mind is pretty inventive. Upon seeing someone with a
large nose, the word might just be "Nose!" or "Elephant!"
TC, Hattiesburg, Miss.
It is true, this form of Tourette's is the kind that involves saying totally
inappropriate or impolite things, you complete loser readers whom we
consistently take for granted.
Stuart Ellis-Myers, who speaks nationally about his long-time Tourette's and
is writing a book titled I Twitch, agrees it's only about 10 percent to 15
percent of those afflicted who do the out-loud cussing. He told us that most
people with Tourette's, a neurological disorder that often starts in childhood,
make facial tics or grunting noises, rather than nasty shout-outs.
Researchers estimate close to 200,000 people in the U.S. have Tourette's,
according to the Tourette Syndrome Association. For people who have it, a part
of the brain is telling them to do certain things, such as twitch, and the only
resolution is to follow those orders - in much the same way the brain might tell
someone with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder to check the oven or doors.
"I'm not a swearer . . . but I tell audiences, can I share with you what some
of my friends [with coprolalia] say? If you're a sailor, they'll blow you out of
the water," Ellis-Myers said.
But what if you didn't know any profanities or slurs?
"You'd go to whatever words you were told by your parents or society not to
use," he said. "It's the lack of control of not being able to stop yourself.
Your brain says: 'Oh, I can't touch fire? Then I will.' "
"For us, two wrongs make a right. We know we can't stop twitching or
swearing, and at the same time we know we shouldn't be saying the following
words. It's action toward finding peace. . . . the best way to know what it's
like is to go drink 15 espressos, then stick your finger in a light socket 15
times. You'd come out twitching and swearing, too."
Damn straight, losers.
Phillip Milano, author of I Can't Believe You Asked That! (Perigee),
moderates cross-cultural dialogue at Y? The National Forum on People's
Differences. Visit www.yforum.com to submit questions and answers. Send general
column comments to phillip. firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also hear his
podcasts or watch his