Medical Definition of Coprolalia

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 10/30/2018

Coprolalia: The excessive and uncontrollable use of foul or obscene language, including words related to feces (bowel waste).

Coprolalia is a typical symptom of Tourette syndrome, a condition that has its onset in childhood and is characterized by compulsive arm movements, facial tics, grunting, groaning and shouting. Aside from coprolalia, there is often echolalia, the involuntary parrot-like repetition (echoing) of a word or sentence just spoken by another person. Persons with Tourette syndrome do not usually curse out of anger or displeasure but out of uncontrollable compulsion. They cannot help themselves. (The disease is also called Gilles de la Tourette syndrome.)

Coprolalia can upon occasion also be a symptom of schizophrenia, a severe psychiatric disorder of thought in which the sufferer loses touch with reality, withdraws from social activity and exhibits bizarre behavior. The schizophrenic may curse for no apparent reason. (There is no known relationship between Tourette syndrome and schizophrenia.)

Undiagnosed victims of Tourette syndrome or schizophrenia are often subjected to public ridicule from persons within earshot of a coprolalia outburst. Observers believe the outburst is the result of a conscious and voluntary decision to swear. It is not. Medication is available to control the outbursts.

Persons who swear excessively, repeatedly and deliberately -- that is, they swear because they want to --are not technically sufferers of coprolalia, although some writers may wish to apply the term loosely to them.

"Coprolalia" is derived from the Greek words "kopros" (dung) and "lalein" (to babble). "Kopros" has also given us such English words as "coprolith," a hard lump of feces in the intestines, and "coprophobia" (an abnormal and persistent fear of feces).

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Reviewed on 10/30/2018