Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Word Wednesday - Where Do Swear Words Come From?

As a matter of fact ...

Swearing is great. There is no denying it. We spend the first part of our lives being scolded for saying them and then come adulthood, we just can't seem to get enough of them. It's humans natural attraction to the taboo. It's also scientifically proven to reduce pain if you scream an expletive when you get hurt. Can't argue with science.

In honour of these fantastic words that get us through pain, stress and even leaving your pizza in the oven too long: I thought I'd take a look at where they came from. This is your disclaimer if swear words offend you! If not, let's find out where 3 of these beauties came from, you won't effing believe it ...

1) Shit

Perhaps my favourite of them all. This gem of a word first cropped up over 1,000 years ago from the Old Norse 'skíta.' The Anglo-Saxons of England used 'scittan' when referring to a cow's diarrhea. Nice! From there it took on its modern meaning of excrement. Nicer!

Terms such a shit faced, shitting me, shit's hit the fan etc are all recent variations that have cropped up in the past century or so. It's a swear word that's stood the test of time.

2)  Fuck

Another cracker. This word can't help but add colour to any sentence. If used properly, it's an art form. If you don't believe me, check out Malcom Tucker on the brilliant BBC sitcom 'The Thick of It.' He elevates this word to another level.

Oddly enough, it has proven hard for people to trace back the origins if this word because of it's taboo nature. Back in the 15th and 16th centuries, people were too afraid to even write down the word for fear of invoking God's wrath! 

What we do know is that it had Germanic roots like the Swedish 'focka' and Norwegian 'fokka' which both mean to copulate. It first appeared in England in a 15th century coded poem that mocked monks breaking their celibacy. In the 500 years since then, it's still considered 'The F Bomb' although it's slowly gaining acceptance for usage among adults. I think people are slowly realising what a great modifier, intensifier and all round colourful word it really is - and I'm fucking glad!

3) Piss

Less taboo than the other two but no less deserving of attention. Piss actually has French roots which I found surprising given the overwhelming amount of swear words that have Germanic origins. It appeared in English in the 1300's coming from the French 'pissier' meaning to urinate. 

It wasn't until WWII however that piss became popularised as an intensifier; piss poor, piss drunk etc. Not long after the war, 'pissed off' for angry became popular in the US, later becoming just 'pissed'. Interestingly, the UK kept the term 'pissed off' for angry and 'pissed' by itself became slang for being very drunk. This is something I had to get used to when coming to Canada. If I was ever annoyed, I thought everyone was asking me if I was drunk or not. Pretty confusing. 

Three swear words for you there that people use more often than they think! Unless you're around children, old people, your parents or anyone who might take offense (sadly) at these words, use them! The way I see it, they've been around long before you and will out live all of us. It would be a waste not to enjoy them while we can! 

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