Don't be like me. Don't bring Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature on your beach vacation—you're just going to abandon it in favor of a trashy magazine. Do, however, read it when you're nestled on your couch on a cold rainy day, 'cause it's a fascinating read that takes time and effort to savor. As Pinker says, "We are verbivores, a species that lives on words, and the meaning and use of language are bound to be among the major things we ponder, share, and dispute." (Just not while on vacation.)

Pinker's discourse details how thoughts affect language and what we reveal about our inner world through our everyday use of words. It's heady stuff—we're talking textbook-heavy. The book lays the foundation of its more interesting points with 100-plus pages of "content-locative" and semantic whatnot, but it's definitely written for the casual grammar nerd (what's up homies!). It should be noted that Pinker is a Harvard professor and has been a two-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, so the word-wonkage is undoubtedly strong.

The Stuff of Thought's best moments are in the explanations of why people swear and use indirect language. The use of polite indirect questions, like "Would you mind passing me the butter?" saves face in a civilized society. By not using bossy language to order around the butter-keeper, the asker isn't perceived as a domineering git. Pinker dissects why we innately use a simpering question, rather than just blurting out a command, and the result is fascinating explanation of how we think and why we do what we do.

On the other end of the polite spectrum, Pinker explores the joys of profanity. "Taboo speech is part of a larger phenomenon known as word magic... [People] treat the name for an entity as part of its essence, so that the mere act of uttering a name is seen as a way to impinge on its referent. Incantations, spells, prayers, and curses are ways that people try to affect the world through words, and taboos and euphemisms are ways that people try not to affect it." While you might have to wrap your brain around tenses, Extreme Nativism, and polysemy before you can figure out why you're constantly swearing like a drunken sailor, it's abso-fucking-lutely worth it.