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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, peculiar to England though sometimes used in the British Dominions of Australia and New Zealand, has its own bit of history.
Let’s start at the beginning;
The island of Britain was originally inhabited by Celtic people. The Island became part of the Roman Empire for 400 years then when the Romans left in 410 CE everyone who had a boat wanted to invade. Most of these illegal immigrants came from the Germanic areas around what is now the Hook of Holland. Also Danes and Scandinavians appeared. The main tribes were the Angles and the Saxons. 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” This was a dialect of German and 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, William the Conqueror. In 1066 CE he landed on the southern shore and defeated the English, killing the last of the Saxon kings, though they were actually Danish at that time, Harold Godwinson. William then set about consolidating his hold on the English by giving land to the Barons that had came over with him to assist in the conquering. The barons had their retinues and all these people spoke Norman-French. Now, the language of the Nobility was French while the language of the Saxons, the new commoners, was German. 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. There is a saying in England “English for the stable, French for the Table.” For example; when it is running around in the field, it is called a “Cow” When it comes to the table it is called “Beef” Boeuf is French for Cow. Similarly, in the field it is called a “Sheep” on the table it is called “Mutton” Muton being French for Sheep. So English has a number of words for the same thing. It’s just that French is perfectly acceptable and may even be used in Church. Old Anglo-Saxon is vulgar and must never be used in “Polite Company” and that is where the swear words come from.
Pardon my French
A few examples; It is acceptable to say “Bosom” and “Posterior” It would not surprise us to hear the Pastor say those words, 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 Schitz 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.
Back in 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. 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 amongst 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 amongst 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 “Bledie” and in many areas of England you hear “Buh-ledie”
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?
- Amazon.com: English Swear words and other ways to be completely misunderstood. eBook: Peter Freeman,
Amazon.com: English Swear words and other ways to be completely misunderstood. eBook: Peter Freeman, C. J. Hill: Kindle Store. For a further explanation of why and how we swear the way we do. With anecdotes and "Slips of the tongue" just $2.99