Library Services Centre

Between the ages of 13 and 23, I worked in horse barns, first as a volunteer and then as a full time job. This gave me a mouth like a sailor, because there’s nothing quite as appropriate as ‘!@$%’ when a thousand-pound animal hip checks you into a wall. These days I work in an office and the only horse I see regularly is my own - whose interests lie mostly in how he’s never been fed, ever, in his entire life – but I still tend to pepper my sentences with cursing.

 

Swearing is Good for YouOf course, there’s a time and a place for swearing. I control myself around customers, children, upper management, and my mother. If someone indicates that they don’t like listening to profanity as punctuation, it’s only appropriate to stop. However, science has shown there are multiple benefits to a good curse, as laid out by Dr. Emma Byrne in her 2017 book Swearing is Good For You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language. Dr. Byrne argues that swearing is essential to both social and emotional health. It allows stroke victims to regain their language skills, fosters relationships between team members, and even reduces pain, as proven in the Mythbusters episode No Pain, No Gain or illustrated by Stephen Fry and Brian Blessed in Planet Word.

 

Bon Cop, Bad CopProfanity has a long history, though it’s obviously changed since the Romans insulted each other by implying their target was submissive to another man – or worse, a woman.  In Biblical times, swearing was to make an oath to the Abrahamic God, an acknowledgment of omniscience and omnipotence. The Bible forbade ‘vain swearing,’ which in the Middle Ages became such shocking phrases as ‘by the blood of Jesus Christ.’  This kind of swearing has actually lasted into modern times in Quebec, which has a unique type of cursing slang that involves the Roman Catholic church. For a great example of how to swear in Quebec, check out Bon Cop, Bad Cop (and then watch its sequel, just because). Famously swear-heavy TV show Deadwood uses modern, scatological swearing; when they filmed the first pilot, they used period appropriate swear words, which ended up making all the characters sound like Yosemite Sam. 

 

Holy Shit: a brief history of swearingThe big swear words these days are short, sharp, and generally shocking, but a lot of them were simply descriptors in the Middle Ages. More information (including some hilarious place names) can be found in this article by the Irish Times, which took its information from Holy Sh*t: a Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr. These days the effectiveness of profanity derives mostly from how inappropriate it is; I could say ‘daisies’ when I stub my toe, but society at large has no problem with flowers so it doesn’t mean much. In his episode of Inside the Actor's Studio, Alan Alda said his favourite swear word was "horse". It’s also why children tend to repeat any profanity they hear over and over (and over): because most of the time they get a reaction from the people around them, whether anger, laughter – because honestly, is there anything funnier than the sweet, innocent voice of a child dropping an F-bomb? – or any other type of attention.

 

How to Swear: an illustrated guideAs we move into the 2020s, it seems that actual curse words are becoming more mainstream, but epithets are becoming the new swear words.  Epithets are descriptive words or phrases used to sum up a person, from ‘the redhead/brunette/other man’ in fiction (a personal pet peeve), to racial and sexual slurs designed to insult. There’s a general idea that swearing means a lower vocabulary and intellectual level, especially if you’re female; nice girls don’t swear, after all.  However, Professor Timothy Jay at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts co-authored a study in 2015 that found people who were fluent in swearing were also more fluent in other aspects of language. A different study, from 2017 found a positive relationship between profanity and honesty; individuals who swear a lot are perceived as less likely to lie or deceive. This doesn’t, however, give anyone carte blanche to fling curses and slurs at anyone they see; context is the difference between venting frustration and actively insulting another person.

 

A pocket dictionary of the vulgar tongueSo now that you know the benefits of some good profanity, how do you go about improving your obscene vocabulary? Stephen Wildish has some ideas in his book How To Swear: An Illustrated Guide. For the curser on the go, there’s A Pocket Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, originally published in 1785 but brought back to life in April 2020 so the next generation can swear like an 18th-century London dockworker. Or if you want to know more about how and why we swear, check out What the F by Benjamin K. Bergen.

 

To keep up to date with all of LSC’s latest offerings, please follow LSC on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, our YouTube Channel, and now on Issuu. We also encourage you to subscribe to the weekly Green Memo, and we hope you check back each and every week on this site for our latest musings on the publishing world.

 

Enjoy!

Subscribe to this Blog Like on Facebook Tweet this! Share on Google+ Share on LinkedIn

Contributors

Rachel Seigel
16
September 21, 2020
show Rachel's posts
Selection Services
2
September 14, 2020
show Selection's posts
LSC Library Services Centre
25
September 7, 2020
show LSC's posts
Stef Waring
12
August 24, 2020
show Stef's posts
Michael Clark
14
August 17, 2020
show Michael's posts
Jamie Quinn
2
July 27, 2020
show Jamie's posts
Sara Pooley
4
July 20, 2020
show Sara's posts
Karrie Vinters
5
February 10, 2020
show Karrie's posts
Angela Stuebing
2
December 16, 2019
show Angela 's posts
Dale Campbell
1
June 24, 2019
show Dale's posts

Latest Posts

Show All Recent Posts

Archive

Tags

Everything Adult Fiction Adult Non Fiction Children’s Fiction Children’s Non Fiction Graphic Novels AV Multilingual Services Announcements Holidays Social Media Events