Giles de la Tourette’s syndrome

Tourette’s syndrome is often incorrectly called the swearing disorder. This disease often manifests itself in coprolalia and echolalia. This usually occurs in attacks. This can sometimes make it seem as if nothing is wrong, when bystanders do not experience a moment of attack. The disease is not a mental disorder. The cause and treatment are explained in more detail here.

Tourette’s is not a swearing disorder

Tourette’s syndrome is named after the French physician Georges Gilles de la Tourette. In 1885 this doctor described a disease that caused sudden movements and the exclamation of swear words. The doctor lived from 1857 to 1904 and after his death his description of this disease was forgotten. It was not until 1970 that the disease was rediscovered and described as Tourette syndrome.
The disease has long been considered a mental illness. Yet Tourette’s syndrome is not a mental disorder. It was also considered a neurological disease for a long time. Tourette’s syndrome is a combination of both: a neuropsychological disease. The functioning of the brain is disrupted, probably due to an effect in the genes. This effect is inherited through one of the parents. Someone with a defective gene does not necessarily have to develop Tourette’s syndrome. There are often triggers that cause someone with the defective gene to actually develop Tourette’s. This could be major stress or anxiety, but also an infectious disease or another attack on the immune system.
Tourette’s syndrome is characterized by using abusive language or swear words. The film industry in particular has put this disease in the spotlight. This is why this disease is often labeled as the scolding disease. This is a misnomer: the disease is absolutely not a scolding disease.


The disease manifests itself by making uncontrolled movements and sounds. The first symptoms often begin during childhood: somewhere between the ages of two and sixteen. The uncontrolled movements are also called tics. A tic can include excessive blinking, wrinkling the nose, rubbing the hands, turning away from the eyes, wiggling the feet, or other movements that are often repeated and have no function or purpose. Tics can alternate and follow each other. Over time, more and more tics will develop. Rarely is there a period when tics do not occur. If this period does exist, it usually does not last longer than 8 to 12 weeks.
The sounds the person makes often consist of repeating words (echolalia) or uttering swear words (coprolalia). These attacks can be provoked by the environment. If the person hears swear words in quick succession, he or she may take over. Making uncontrolled movements and sounds has a clear peak around puberty. Afterwards it may decrease or remain fairly stable. It is rare for the disease to become more serious in adulthood. By the way, it is not only the uttering of swear words that occurs, other sounds can also be made repeatedly. This includes coughing, clearing the throat, humming (hmmm) or clicking the tongue. Sometimes these are used interchangeably or alternate, but there are also people who repeat only one sound continuously.
Nearly half of people with Tourette exhibit compulsions. This may involve washing your hands every time, walking around a pole three times, doing everything clockwise or other compulsive actions. These compulsions do not arise from a phobia. Everything happens outside of one’s own will.


The disease can be reasonably suppressed with the help of medication. The disadvantage of medications is that they can sometimes have unpleasant side effects. Behavioral therapy can sometimes help to reduce certain tics. The person can be taught to delay the tic or suppress it with an opposite movement. This will weaken the actual tic and in some cases disappear completely. The person can also be taught to use neutral words instead of swear words. So for example cat instead of pussy and spunk instead of cock. In this way it is possible to get rid of the negative image that the person creates in others. The disease cannot be cured: a way must be found for the person himself, but also for the environment, to learn to deal with it.

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  • Echolalia: parroting
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