When we talk about the rationality of human beings, we often think about our ability to use language, to reason through it and to formulate logical arguments through its use. However, language is not totally isolated from the irrational side of brain functioning.

A phenomenon called coprolalia shows us that, when some changes occur in our nervous system, the involuntary and automatic component on which cognitive functions such as language use are based is revealed.

What is coprolalia?

Etymologically, the origin of the term coprolalia is the union of two Greek words that mean "feces", and "babble". Coprolalia or cacolalia is the tendency to say obscene words and phrases impulsively, without having any control over it , in a sustained manner over time. Normally, these swear words and phrases are pronounced louder than normal, as if they were bursts of rage, and each time this is done a feeling of guilt may arise.

The reason for this is that coprolalia is a pathological tendency related to a type of dehinibition. What cannot be inhibited in cases of coprolalia has to do, precisely, with words and expressions that are not socially accepted or that are linked to aggressive behaviors. People with this tendency can, for example, insult someone and immediately afterwards show their regret .

Behind coprolalia there is a very stereotyped and often repeated pattern of thinking: attention is attracted to thoughts that have to do with taboo or unpleasant ideas, and then these ideas are immediately expressed verbally, as if they were something irresistible, and in an involuntary way.

Eschatological verbalizations in coprolalia

Coprolalia is a pathological tendency based on impulses towards scatological verbalizations, but also towards derogatory comments, bad words in general and ideas that are taboo. These verbalizations can be single words or they can be more or less complex sentences.

For example, it is common in cases of coprolalia to say many words referring to the genitals or sexual acts , and insults may also appear to people who may or may not be around at the time.

Coprolalia in Tourette’s Syndrome

Coprolalia is one of the symptoms most associated with Tourette Syndrome, an inherited disorder in which the person involuntarily reproduces many verbal and motor tics. Unpleasant verbalizations are one of the repetitive and involuntary components of these tics, and coprolalia is one of the symptoms that can generate greater social rejection .

Although less than half of the people affected by Tourette’s Syndrome have coprolalia, as one of the most striking symptoms it has been culturally associated with it, as if it were an essential and inseparable component of the syndrome. In this regard, it is well known in Latin America the case of the Chilean child Agustín Arenas, whose verbalizations and tics became viral in the 90’s.

Another phenomenon similar to coprolalia and which is also associated with Tourette’s Syndrome is copropraxia , the tendency to make involuntary and impulsive obscene and inappropriate gestures.

Causes of coprolalia

Currently it is not known what exactly is the biological cause of coprolalia , that is, the physical and chemical anomalies in the structure and functioning of the brain that cause these verbalizations to appear. However, it is assumed that coprolalia is produced by the same abnormalities in the functioning of inhibitory mechanisms that cause involuntary tics to appear in people with Tourette’s syndrome.

That is, hypothetically, people who present coprolalia cannot repress thoughts related to obscenities, and they have to express them aloud as if they were handling an escape valve that prevents a great discomfort from accumulating as these ideas are inhibited.

Coping Strategies

There is no known form of treatment that guarantees the total disappearance of the signs of coprolalia, and that is why the best way to contribute to the improvement of the quality of life of the people who experience it is to teach them coping strategies . In other words, ways of managing the presence of coprolalia as best as possible .


These coping strategies are often related to finding ways to muffle obscene verbalizations, for example by saying only the first few letters of the word to be said or mumbling it through your teeth. However, in some cases these strategies will not be effective, as it is very difficult to predict when these words will be spoken.

Beyond these methods, a very invasive form of treatment that can reduce the intensity with which coprolalia is expressed is the use of botulinum toxin (botox) near the vocal cords, paralyzing them in part and causing the volume and intensity of these outbursts to decrease.