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English Swear Words
The Queen's English
Where the swear words came from
The English language uses amusing, unusual, even unique methods for swearing. Every language has it’s expletives but English is bloody strange.That last one for instance is peculiar to England. Although "bloody" is often used in the British Dominions of Australia and New Zealand. The word has it's own history but let's start at the beginning.
The island of Britain was originally inhabited by a Celtic people who spoke a language called Brythonic. That language eventually became Welsh, Cornish and Breton. The latter spoken in Brittany, Northwest France. The Island became part of the Roman Empire for 400 years then when the Romans left in 383 CE everyone who had a boat tried to invade. Most of these illegal immigrants came from the Germanic areas around what is now the Hook of Holland. The main tribes from that area were the Angles, Saxons and Jutes. Scandinavians, especially Danes settled in parts of England and for a period the King of Denmark was also King of the Saxons. Eventually it resulted in the people being called “Saxons” and the country they inhabited becoming known as “Angleland” or England. They spoke a language called Englec Today we would call it “Old Anglo-Saxon” a dialect of German, it became the common tongue of the Saxons as they spread through the part of the island today known as England.
Then there arrived the one man who would change the history of the island and the nature of the language, Duke William of Normandy popularly referred to as William the Conqueror. In 1066 CE he landed at Hastings on the southern shore of England and defeated the English, killing the last of the Saxon kings, Harold Godwinson. William then set about consolidating his hold on the English. The Saxon nobility were either killed or sold into slavery. They were replaced by the Barons that had aided William. The barons had their retinues and all these people spoke Norman-French. This result was that the language of the nobility was French while the language of the Saxons, remained German. The new Norman overlords were cruel and exploitative. They considered the Saxons to be inferior beings and treated them as such.The Saxon language was considered crude and peasant-like to the new rulers.
Over the next couple of centuries the two languages would meld into the English of today but the same prejudices remain. For example; the common people, mainly the farmers, provided meat for the table of the nobles. So they used the old words of Sheep and Pig. At table those same animals are referred to as; Mutton and Pork. Muton and Porc are the French equivalents. There is a common saying, still repeated today, that it's "French for the table, English for the stable" Another example of how English has a number of words for the same thing is the following words; Canal (Latin) Channel (French) Trench (Saxon) You may notice something here; there is almost an instinctive pecking order in those words. Canal seems superior to Channel and they both make Trench feel vulgar. It gets worse, In modern English, French is perfectly acceptable in all conversations. It is possible to say absolutely anything, any word, describing any part of the anatomy, even sexual acts, can be used from the church pulpit and sound respectable. As long as it is said in French. It is only a vulgar curse word if said in old English,
Pardon my French
A few examples;
It is acceptable to say “Bosom” and “Posterior” and it would not surprise us to hear the Pastor say those words from the pulpit, after all they are French. If however the Anglo-Saxon words were used, I refer to “Tits” and “Arse” Then we would all be shocked at his foul mouth. Indeed we may “Defecate” but we may not Scite as the Old Saxon would say We may even refer to a ladies vagina and not cause undue alarm but we must never, ever use the modern pronunciation of the old English word for Sex. It’s pure prejudice; we may say whatever we like just not in the language of the conquered. Let’s not forget that it is perfectly acceptable to “Fornicate” but never to……………..Ahh! now there’s an interesting one.
There are a number of urban myths about the origin of that word. Mostly they revolve around acronyms. One of the most popular refers to the days of sailing Ships, when Navies and merchant ships sailed the seven seas. The captain would keep a journal of the daily events, no, the Ship Captain’s Log did not begin with Star Trek, it was around for hundreds of years. During the voyages, due to limited writing space the captain would tend to abbreviate a lot of the entries. So, if two seamen were caught in a homosexual act, they would be punished. The entry would read, for example; “30L for UCK” “L” stood for Lashes and the UCK stood for “Unlawful Carnal Knowledge” So a Taboo word came into being. As interesting as that may sound it is an urban myth. Acronyms did not come into being until the first world war. The word has been a taboo word for centuries when used in a derogatory manner towards someone. This word derives from "Firker" the old description of a Pig breeder.
The way that word is used today is interesting. Perhaps the worse thing to wish on anyone is that they suffer torment for eternity but if I was to tell someone to “Go to Hell” they would hardly be offended. On the other hand, if I told them to “Fornicate off’ (Pardon my French) I could be in for a fight even though it almost could be a blessing.
The English nobility of the middle ages had their own way of cursing that trickled down to the masses. They used to use religious words. It is said that Oliver Cromwell’s favorite phrase was “God’s Teeth” The phrases that were particularly insulting among the religious based curses of those days have remained with us; curses like “Damn you” and “Go to Hell” are still here but have less emphasis these days. One that became popular was “By our Lady” This became so popular among the ordinary folk that it is still used today, only it has been shortened to the earlier mentioned “Bloody” Regional variations in accent still retain some of the old sense of the word. “Bloody” is only pronounced that way in the Southeast of England. In South Wales the word is “Bleddy” and in many areas of England you hear “Buh-leddy” Other words that are contractions of medieval curses, though not as popular as they used to be, were: Gor blimey, (God blind me) and Gadzooks (God's Hooks, referring to Jesus nailed to the cross)
In many ways the English of today lacks the character and eloquence of bygone years. Today we say one word, when in years past a sentence would be used, and misunderstandings were far less. Every one of us has at least one person they would love to approach with the words;
“Thou art an unseemly dog; mayhap thy mother didst dally with a lustful goat”
Isn’t that so much better than inviting them to fornicate?
English swear words and other ways to be completely misunderstood
For further fun facts about swear words including the ways in which we all get our words mixed up.