The Year was 1984


Where do bad words come from? Or maybe why are some words “bad”? Who decides this? Think of a tiny kid, red in the face, yelling in frustration at a parent. Even with the most rudimentary vocabulary, these kids can get the point across.


What about animals? Do they curse at us? We actually have an answer to this question. How? Koko, the gorilla with the amazing vocabulary, has told us. Koko, who died June 19, 2018, was a western lowland gorilla who was born at the San Francisco Zoo in 1971 on the 4th of July. Her real name was Hanabiko and she lived most of her 46 years at the Gorilla Foundation Preserve in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California.


When Koko was a year old, she had a life-threatening disease and was taken from her mother. Francine Patterson became Koko’s caretaker. Koko not only heard English from then but Francine actively taught her ASL – American Sign Language. Koko could eventually sign about a thousand words and understand about 2,000 more.

KOKO with one of her KITTENS

Koko did some amazing things with the words she knew. She had a pet kitten that was missing a tail. Koko named her Kitten “All Ball.” She put words together to make names for new objects. When she saw a ring on someone’s hand, she did not know the word, so she signed “Finger bracelet.” She also could sign about her memories. And praise other gorillas for making “good signs.”

But what about cursing? Well, when teenage Koko, with an IQ of 80 or 90 on human IQ tests, did not want to do the necessary work to get a reward, that would make her mad. To the person denying her a goodie, she put together a string of signs calling the person, “You dirty bad toilet!”


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