Evolution Of Profanity Essay Research Paper The

Evolution Of Profanity Essay, Research Paper The evolution of written profanity began roughly in the sixteenth century, and continues to change with each generation that

Evolution Of Profanity Essay, Research Paper

The evolution of written profanity began roughly in the

sixteenth century, and continues to change with each generation that

it sees. Profanity is recognized in many Shakespearean works, and has

continually evolved into the profane language used today. Some cuss

words have somehow maintained their original meanings throughout

hundreds of years, while many others have completely changed meaning

or simply fallen out of use.

William Shakespeare, though it is not widely taught, was not a

very clean writer. In fact, he was somewhat of a potty mouth. His

works encompassed a lot of things that some people wish he had not.

“That includes a fair helping of sex, violence, crime, horror,

politics, religion, anti-authoritarianism, anti-semitism, racism,

xenophobia, sexism, jealousy, profanity, satire, and controversy of

all kinds” (Macrone 6). In his time, religious and moral curses were

more offensive than biological curses. Most all original (before

being censored) Shakespearean works contain very offensive profanity,

mostly religious, which is probably one of many reasons that his works

were and are so popular. “Shakespeare pushed a lot of buttons in his

day- which is one reason he was so phenomenally popular. Despite what

they tell you, people like having their buttons pushed” (Macrone 6).

Because his works contained so many of these profane words or phrases,

they were censored to protect the innocent minds of the teenagers who

are required to read them, and also because they were blasphemous and

offensive. Almost all of the profanity was removed, and that that was

not had just reason for being there. Some of the Bard’s censored oaths


“God’s blessing on your beard”

Love’s Labors Lost, II.i.203

This was a very rude curse because a man’s facial hair

was a point of pride for him. and “to play with someone’s

beard” was to insult him.

“God’s body”

1 Henry IV,II.i.26

Swearing by Christ’s body, (or any part thereof,) was off

limits in civil discourse.

“God’s Bod(y)kins, man”

Hamlet, II.ii.529

The word bod(y)kin means “little body” or “dear body,” but

adding the cute little suffix does not make this curse any

more acceptable.

“By God’s [blest] mother!”

2 Henry VI, II.i;

3 Henry VI, III.ii;

Henry VIII, V.i

Swearing by the virgin was almost as rude as swearing by

her son, especially when addressing a catholic cathedral as

Gloucester did in 2 Henry VI, II.i

Perhaps the two worst of these Shakespearean swears were

“‘zounds” and “’sblood.” “‘Zounds” had twenty-three occurrences.

Ten of them were in 1 Henry IV. The rest appear in Titus (once),

Richard III (four times), Romeo and Juliet (twice), and Othello ( six

times). Iago and Falstaff were the worst offenders. ‘Zounds has

evolved into somewhat of a silly and meaningless word, but was

originally horribly offensive. This oath, short for “God’s wounds,”

was extremely offensive because references to the wounds or blood of

Christ were thought especially outrageous, as they touched directly on

the crucifixion. “‘Sblood” had twelve occurrences in all. There were

eight times in 1 Henry IV (with Falstaff accounting for six), plus

once in Henry V, twice in Hamlet, and once in Othello. ‘Sblood occurs

less than ‘zounds, but is equally offensive and means basically the

same thing.

Several other words came from Great Britain, but were not

included in Shakespeare’s works. Today the expression “Gadzooks!” is

not particularly offensive to most. Of course, most don’t know what

it originally meant. Gadzooks was originally slang for “God’s hooks,”

and was equally offensive to ‘zounds and ’sblood as it also referred

to the crucifixion. An interesting note is that there is a store

called Gadzooks which everyone thinks of as a pop-culture vendor to

America’s youth. Some (but not many) of Gadzooks’ shoppers would be

very offended if they knew the true meaning of the store’s name.

Another word from this region is a Cockney expression, “Gorblimey,”

which is a word used to swear to the truth, and is a shortened form of

“God blind me.” Also, in England, words such as “bloody,” “blimey,”

“blinkin’,” beginning with the letters “BL” are taken offense to

because they, once again, refer to the blood of Christ and the


The military has an interesting technique for swearing their

brains out without offending anyone. “They use the phonetic alphabet

(A= Alpha, B= Bravo, C= Charlie, etc.) as a code for their swearing”

(Interview). For instance, instead of saying “bullshit,” they would

say “bravo charlie.” Or instead of the horribly offensive blasphemous

cuss word, they could say “golf delta.”

Most people are familiar with the swear words that are still

used. These “four-letter words” aren’t necessarily four letters long,

but more or less, they get the same point across as their four

lettered friends. Such words usually include crap, ass, shit, bitch,

fuck, and damn. There are many variations on the usage and placement

of these words, but they still pack a punch. The word “crap” dates

back as early as 1846, and is usually used as a euphemism for shit,

yet many people find it equally offensive. As most cuss words do,

crap has several different variations, such as, “eat crap,”

“crap-ass,” and “crapola.” The meaning has not evolved since its

first publication, where it was defined simply as “excrement” (Lighter

508). The word “ass” had its first publication as a swear word (as

opposed to a donkey) in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1556.

“Whyyped…at the cartt es arse…for vacabondes.” This is not the

definition commonly used today, but is still a vulgar way of using the

word. This means that back of an object, whereas the more widely used

definition is “of the rump, the buttocks, rectum, and anus” (Lighter

37). The more common definition was first recorded in “Covent Garden

Drollery.” The word actually started out as ?rs, then evolved into

arse (which is the German translation also), and finally evolved into

ass. “Shit” is, when used as an interjection, “An expression of

strong disgust or disappointment,” but is, when used as a noun,

“Anything inferior, ugly, cheap, or disgusting” (Flexner 467). Shit

can be placed with just about any word and make a cute little

expression. Some examples are, “shit head,” “shitting bricks,” and the

colorful little phrase, “shit or get off of the pot.” Bitch was first

used in 1400 in F and H, and has, quite amazingly, maintained its

original meaning for over five hundred years. It’s definition in F and

H was “a malicious , spiteful, promiscuous, or otherwise despicable

woman” (Lighter 169). It is also used today to describe “a sexually

promiscuous young woman, a male homosexual who plays the female role

in copulation, an ill tempered homosexual male, an infuriatingly large

object, or something especially disagreeable” (Lighter 169-70), among

various others. There are many other forms of the word, such as

“bitch kitty,” or “bitch session,” which is basically when a group of

people get together and whine about how terrible their lives are,

quite fun! “Fuck” is probably the most offensive swear word used. The

earliest use of it is in “Verbatim” in 1500, which says, “Non sunt in

celi/quia fuccant uuiuys of heli.” The meaning, unlike the language,

has remained the same, however. It still means “to copulate” (Lighter

831). Some popular variations of it are “fuck a duck,” “fucked by the

fickle finger of fate,” (Reinhold 79) “fucked up and far from home,”

and “fucking A.” The word “damn” itself is not extremely offensive,

but is rather used as an intensifier of other words or phrases. When

placed with God, however, it becomes a horrible, blasphemous word,

which is, to many, more offensive than fuck. This type of thinking

goes back to the sixteenth century when religious curses were far

worse than biological. G.D. goes back to 1697, when D. Defoe, in G.

Hughes Swearing 209 said, “G.D. ye, does not sit well upon a female

tongue” (Lighter 914). Swear words can be used in pairs such as

“fucking bitch,” and “fuck me in the goat’s ass” to intensify and make

the swearing humorous. They can also be used as compliments. Words

like “bitchen” have been used since 1957 when Gidget said, “It was a

bitchen day too. The sun was out…in Southern California” (Lighter


Profanity has evolved from the religious curses of Old England

and the biological curses of today not only in meaning, but also in

intensity. Besides G.D. , the only curses that are offensive today are

the biological curses that make sentences, movies, and just about

anything more graphic or offensive than had the word been left out.