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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Thursday, October 04, 2007

South Park and Tourette Syndrome

I don't know if anyone watches South Park. But if so, did you catch last night's episode, the season premier? In case you're a fan and didn't see it, I won't be too much of a spoiler. Suffice it to say the show's theme involved Eric Cartman pretending to have Tourette.

OK, now my disclaimer. I have a question. A serious question. As God is my witness I'm not teasing, nor am I making fun of anyone with an illness. I'd never do that.

But here's the deal: I'm familiar enough with Tourette to know that it's a neurological disease and that it causes ticks or involuntary gestures in people. Some people blink uncontrollably or at random intervals. Some have a random twitch. Other's periodically yelp. And some Tourette sufferers blurt things out.

I went to school with a kid who had Tourette. He had the blurting tick. But the things he blurted out, at least in school, were exclusively cuss words. No joke. I've seen the same from time to time with kids in department stores, parks, etc. - the blurting tick, and always swearing.

Seeing last night's South Park made me think of this again, though, and leads to my question: Do people who suffer from Tourette and have the blurting tick only shout out swears?

I'm not kidding. If anyone knows someone who has Tourette or if you have it yourself, I'm genuinely curious. I'm just saying, every Tourette sufferer I've ever encountered who had the blurting tick always, always blurted four-letter words. I've never heard a Tourette sufferer blurt out "dandelions!" or "little fuzzy bunnies!" or "sunshine and M&Ms!" or "peaches!"

Enlighten me, please. And again, my disclaimer: I feel for anyone suffering from any sort of disease. No one asks to be sick. I just want to know about the circumstances of one element of this particular disease.

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  • What Ive read about the disease claimed that when those with Tourettes have a vocal tick, they usually say curse words and other unsavory things, things they might not say normally. I have no idea why. Perhaps, when theyre in that state, the "filter" in their brain that keeps folks from saying unsavory things, gets bypassed?

    I dont know, but I will be coming back to read other responses!


    By Blogger Lola Gets, at 11:07 AM  

  • Hmmm... that is interesting. I've never known anyone with Tourettes, just what I've seen on TV. I looked it up on Wikipedia and they had a list of notable people with Tourettes that was interesting to look through.

    By Blogger fiwa, at 1:04 PM  

  • From everything I've read, Lola's right. If it isn't curse words it is something that the person normally would not say and may find offensive themselves. When you think about it, it's pretty horrible. Easy to make fun of, but it must be incredibly hard to live with.

    By Blogger WNG, at 1:06 PM  

  • You know, I've always wondered the same thing. Why the curse words and not something more innocuous?

    I have no ill feelings toward people who suffer from the disease, like you I am just curious.

    By Blogger qofd, at 1:49 PM  

  • The blurting out thing is called

    I've seen it. I wonder, if someone with disease has never heard a profane word, what do they blurt?

    By Blogger Hammer, at 2:03 PM  

  • Lola, that filter explanation makes sense.

    Fiwa, I'll have to look up that Wiki list.

    WNG, not making fun. I swear. I was/am just curious about the vocal tick. I'll put it this way, if the people I'd encountered with Tourette had always blurted out happy things, I'd have written this post asking why the vocal tick never contained a gripe or a swear. It's not that I think it's funny. I'm just fascinated that it's always the same thing, no variety.

    Thanks Queen, that's all I was trying to say.

    Thanks a lot, Hammer, now you've added another question I have to get an answer too. Good point. I've seen some young, young kids with Tourette blurting out four-letter words. But then again, kids can pick those words up in the school yard, these days.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 2:56 PM  

  • I was going to say it's called Coprolalia, but I see someone already commented on that. Apparently not everyone that has TS has this particular symptom. But since it is the most "attention getting" it appears to be in greater numbers than it actually is. I have always wondered about that myself, though (yes, I did see the episode); why curse words? Maybe it's because the "filtering" part of the brain doesn't work? I don't know. But if you do any research on it, please share.

    By Blogger Balou, at 3:34 PM  

  • I didn't think you were making fun, James. No worries :)

    By Blogger WNG, at 3:45 PM  

  • I saw that episode too last night. Couldn't stop laughing at the end, where he was talking about his cousin...

    Anyhoo. While I was watching I caught myself thinking that if I had a child with Tourette's I'd probably try and go to just about ANY lengths to keep him/her from ever hearing a dirty word.

    By Anonymous Freddie, at 4:04 PM  

  • I've read cases of grunts instead of curse words. My wife worked for a Tourette sufferer and he would almost constantly whistle through his teeth as a sort of therapy.

    He found when giving a minuscule amount of thought all the time to something (the whistling), it prevented outbursts.

    By Blogger Wavemancali, at 6:10 PM  

  • I am an adult with TS. I just finished watching the episode. To be honest, I found it hilarious. I agree with the TSA in that it does promote the unfortunate stereotype that TS == cussing, but they did manage to slip in a scene showing otherwise, which is more than I can say for any other pop-culture treatment of the syndrome. The session to educate Kyle felt very accurate with the neck tic followed by a snap and the blink followed by a pop.

    That pop, by the way, is a common vocal tic. Somebody else above equated vocal tics with words, but they're not always. To answer the questions, there are other vocal tics that do includes words, but corprolalia is usually "socially unacceptable" speech. The person really don't want to say it, but cannot hold it in. It's not so much "whatever I want to say that comes to mind", it's what you just cannot keep out of your mind. Not necessarily profanity either, I remember one lady on a TS mailing list telling a story about how she was in line behind a black man wearing a purple shirt who blurted out "purple n---". He turned around and said "lady, if you think n--- are purple, you've got a problem!" She was glad that he was laughing and not angry. Another vocal tic that involves words is called echolalia, repeating yourself or others. A good example of profanity, but by far the majority of vocal tics are clicks, squeaks, pops, sucking noises, etc.

    Hope this helps!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:41 PM  

  • You're suspecting more fakers, aren't you?

    That episode was not unlike the one where Cartman impersonates a retard but this was funnier.

    By Blogger M@, at 7:58 PM  

  • who knew? i haven't watched south park in ages..or thought about tourette sydrome, either..

    By Blogger savannah, at 8:38 PM  

  • Maybe Isiah Thomas should have used the tourette defense.

    By Anonymous thefirstdomino, at 9:04 PM  

  • Balou, I've since done a little research and that turned-off-brain-filter thing seems to be a common explanation for the cussing tick.

    Thanks, WNG!

    Freddie, it was hilarious. Interestingly, I was thinking the same thing as you about keeping the kid from hearing cuss words. I'd make 'em walk around in headphones listening to people singing about gum drops and lollypops.

    WaveManCali, I've never heard that practice of focused-maintenance to control the symptoms. Interesting. If it works, that guy outta write a book. Seriously.

    Anonymous, thanks for the explanation. I can't lie. That "purple..." story cracked me up. I nearly spit out my drink just now.

    Ha! Matt, I swear I'm not thinking of more fakers. That episode just made me remember the folks I've observed, particularly the kid I went to school with. I believe it was real with them. I really just wanted to know why that kid never blurted out "sugar plums!!!" And yeah, that episode w/Cartman in the Special Oplympics was messed up. I'm not hyper-PC by a long shot, but all I could think was I hope the dudes who wrote that episode don't have children anytime soon, 'cause Karma might be waiting for 'em.

    Hey Savannah! I watch [i]South Park[/i] reruns all the time, but I hadn't thought about Tourette in a while either till I saw this episode.

    TheFirstDomino, you win tonight! That definitely made me spit my drink. Brilliant. Isaiah Thomas's attorneys should have thought of Tourette. You're right. His pockets might be a little heavier tonight if he had.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 12:23 AM  

  • Our good friends "had" a son with Tourettes. He stepped into the path of a car going 60 mph. Shocking end to a 21 year olds difficult life.

    While on his meds I never heard him swear or jerk.

    By Blogger Pamela, at 2:53 AM  

  • How is your wife going with the little one growing inside her? I hope she is well :)

    By Blogger Cazzie!!!, at 7:23 AM  

  • Pamela, I'm sorry for your friends and their son. Hope he found peace at the next stop.

    Cazzie, thanks for asking. She's doing well - past the halfway point. The morning sickness is still lingering, though not as severe as it was several months ago.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 9:44 AM  

  • I saw a show recently about children with Tourette's, and they didn't curse...but maybe because they were too young to have been exposed to the words? Most of their vocalizations were just random. It was a documentary, and I can't remember the name of it, or I could refer you to it, and you could listen for yourself.

    And all this time, I thought "Tweek" had Tourette's, but maybe his parents were running a meth lab out of the house? Oh wait - it's the caffeine. I guess I need to watch South Park more regularly.

    By Blogger Tiggerlane, at 2:21 PM  

  • Question for Pamela at the bottom...

    Tiggerlane: As I mentioned above, cussing (corprolalia) is actually a rather rare form of TS. Of the few people who have TS, only about 15% of those have corprolalia. It's actually quite rare. Problem is, that's the one that all TV programs, etc, focus on, so when I say that I have TS people often say "you do not, you don't cuss." Frustrating. My vocal tics are more of a repeated sucking out of the corner of my mouth that makes a very loud noise. I "have to" do it until it feels "just right", which can be 20 or 30 seconds at times, which is VERY disruptive. I have far more motor tics than vocal tics, some of which are very painful. A diagnosis of TS requires BOTH motor and vocal tics that wax and wane over a long period and that are transient, meaning that they change over time. The transient nature is what is scary... you never know what to expect. I get new tics every six months or so. I just noticed that my son has a new one as of about a week ago as well. TS is genetic and much more likely in boys than girls. My daughter so far seems to be free of any symptoms. Girls tend to get more OCD type symptoms. If you look at the Southpark episode there's a venn diagram on the wall in the background showing an overlap between OCD, TS, and ADHD, which is a surprising detail for them to include, but it's true.

    Pamela: TS often has internal symptoms that cannot be seen. Some tics are more mental compulsions to do things. "I wonder what it'd feel like if I jumped off this cliff" Very strong compulsions at times, quite painful and scary. Did this friend's son have similar compulsions, or did they blame it on the drugs? I've personally avoided medication because I have heard that the treatment can be worse than what it treats! People say that they feel dull, uninspired, depressed, suicidal. Scary stuff. TS is a manifestation of overactivity in the brain. TS sufferers are often of far above average intelligence. It's a mixed blessing and curse, but overall my outlook is that the blessing outweighs the curse (at least for me) and I personally would rather not be "normal".

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:33 PM  

  • James,
    I don't know anything about Tourette's.
    I just think it's interesting in today's hyper-sensitive, I. Thomas, overly PC world we live in, how many times in the post and comments you had to almost 'pre-apologize' and try so hard to convice us that you were asking a serious medical question.
    Have we really gotten to that point that we can't ask anything without risk of offending someone?

    By Anonymous silver, at 12:15 PM  

  • I watched a special on Tourette's, and it doesn't just have to be swear words. But, it generally is something that is socially unacceptable. In fact one of the ladies who had Tourette's told a story about how she was in the bank and she was standing behind a black man and she knew she was going to say something crazy and possibly offensive and she kept trying to bite it back and bite it back, but she finally exploded with "Purple Nigger!" (I do not use this term personally, just so you know) The man turned around and looked at her and said, "Lady, if you think niggers are purple, there's something wrong with you." And there was . . . Tourette's!

    By Blogger Heidi, at 2:36 PM  

  • Sorry, I just saw someone else gave my story previously. . . must remember to read all comments before adding my two cents!

    By Blogger Heidi, at 2:39 PM  

  • 'Tourette's Syndrome' is a PSYCHOLOGICAL problem, not a 'neurological disorder'. What a joke.
    And now we allow these idiots to get away with murder because "It's a neurological disorder". My ass it is.
    Don't tell me - "People with 'Tourette's' have different brain scans than people without". So does somebody who's thinking about killing his irritating boss. It doesn't mean the brain CAUSES the differences in itself...
    Just like 'Asperger's syndrome', and 'autism', more made up 'scientific' names for what are obviously PSYCHOLOGICAL problems, caused by parents...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:20 PM  

  • "The blurting out thing is called

    I've seen it. I wonder, if someone with disease has never heard a profane word, what do they blurt?"

    Very good question... Gee... I wonder WHERE all these children with so-called 'Tourette's syndrome' LEARNED the swear words, and learned that they are BLURTED OUT. Surely not from their parents? Say it ain't so...
    Tourette's Syndrome is a psychological problem, but our modern 'psychiatrists' (self-appointed 'experts') can't face the emotions of others, so have to redefine every emotional problem as a 'neurological disorder', and doesn't that just sound scientific and official...

    This episode of South Park was hilarious - I loved the part near the start where everybody in the toy store was saying "It's a neurological disorder" - I can only presume that the creators of South Park thinkg it's a bunch of bullcrap too.

    As for the people on here who 'can't help' their tics - I call bullshit. You're lying. Can you control your arms? Your legs?

    I live in the U.K. and if I called a nigger a "purple nigger", I'd be put in prison for six months (no, I'm not kidding). Can I get away with it if I can 'prove' I've got 'Tourette's syndrome'?


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:27 PM  

  • I actually HAVE Tourette syndrome, and I have a slight blurting problem. But not swears. I actually will sometimes just growl at random. I can't say why, I just need to at the time. So swearing is the most common, but it's not exclusive.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:49 AM  

  • To the person who so ignorantly state, "'Tourette's Syndrome' is a PSYCHOLOGICAL problem, not a 'neurological disorder'. What a joke.
    And now we allow these idiots to get away with murder because "It's a neurological disorder". My ass it is."

    ...YOU, my friend, are the idiot. Your comments are the joke. You're ignorant. My 6-year-old son suffers greatly from Tourettes, and had the worst school year because of it. I find it odd that you seem to think he can "help" his tics. He would gladly give them up if it meant he could be normal like his peers. Do your research, you'll find that Tourettes IS a neurological disorder. It is heartbreaking to watch corn fall out of his mouth at the dinner table due to a jaw stretching that he can't control. Just one of many tics.

    Some people yell out "metal" or "coffee," and can't prevent doing it.

    Let's hope you find compassion for others before you one day need it yourself.

    I feel sorry for you. You've embarrassed yourself greatly.

    By Anonymous deb, at 7:52 AM  

  • There's a lot more to the "blurting" than swearing. There are many many different types of outbursts with TS but not all people with TS have outbursts either.

    Luckily, I don't have outbursts. I currently have a throat clearing tic, a "k" sound tic, shoulder shrugging, neck tensing, head twitching, eye blinking and some OCD-like behaviours of having to touch something the same number of times with each hand and many more that come and go.

    Back on outbursts though. You can grunt, repeat your own words, repeat others' words, say random words, say a series of words that are connected in some way. These are just some of the outburst tics I have heard of or come across.

    Ugh, my ticcing gets so much worse when I"m thinking about it lol

    By Blogger Buck, at 1:00 AM  

  • I don't have the "blurting" out tic but I do have some others like head jerks,grunting,counting you know same old. I do know that I don't shout out swear words but I do make a loud noise that is similar to a hick-up. It isn't a regular hick-up because its different but its very loud and I can feel it coming on usually and sometimes it hurts.
    I don't know for sure but I would call that a tick for me because its different. I don't know if that helped you out but I would say that I do yell something out other than swear words I just have a loud hick-up or noise.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:43 PM  

  • My partner has Tourettes Syndrome and I find it quite difficult to distinguish between plain nastyness and TS. Is it possible that when a sufferer of TS gets angry or upset that they have the uncontrollable urge to say something "socially unacceptable" or nasty to that person or do you think it is just because they are angry? I would like to hear from someone with Tourette's if they have something similar.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:45 AM  

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