Do you actually feel good after uttering a swear word? Fuck, yes. But have you ever wondered why? The answer is right here.
Swear words have an impact on our minds and body. These swear words have a strange power attached to them, a power that is given by us when we utter them. It conveys an emotional reaction so intense that it may not be verbally expressive otherwise. That is why we feel them as we speak. It is also known to relieve and help us cope with pain, according to a study by Scientific American.
Though we are taught not to swear from the very beginning of our childhood as we grow up we start using these words in to signify emotion, normally anger.
“The reason that a child thinks the F-word is a bad word is that, growing up, he or she was told that it was a bad word, so profanity is a cultural construct that perpetuates itself through time,” said Dr. Bergen, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego.
But more than that, it also has a fascinating history that most of us are unaware of. Rather than being written in manuscripts, we find them used by normal people and preserved with surprisingly simple meanings which reveals more about our medieval past than just attitudes towards sex and body parts.
Let’s dive into some of them.
No, I am not trying to curse or offend you, but well this is the big one. The wolf of the wall street starring Leonardo DiCaprio used this one 506 times, making the world record with the most f-bombs in a movie.
Fuck isn’t thought to have existed in English before the fifteenth century and is believed to have arrived later from the Germans or Dutch. According to OED, "fuck" did not appear in any English language dictionary from 1795 to 1965. The Penguin Dictionary finally broke the taboo and included it in 1966 and from there it was added into other dictionaries.
But did you know that many early instances of fuck were actually used to mean “to strike” or “to hit” rather than being anything to do with an actual act of fucking. Clearly now we use it in many different and creative ways with several meanings attached to it like -
fuck up - messed up.
fuck off - asking someone to mind their own business.
fuck it - letting something be.
fucker - a foolish person
for fuck’s sake - in the place of ‘for god’s sake’
FUBAR - Fucked up beyond all recognition, etc.
Did you know that ‘shit’ is the most popular swear word on Facebook?
The word ‘Shit’ literally means - “dung” or “excrement”. It is derived from Old English, having the nouns ‘scite’ (dung), scitte (diarrhea) and scitan (to defecate). Informally, we use it more often as it sounds less ‘bad’ than the f-word, but similarly, it is used to express different emotions like - surprise, trouble, displeasure or to exert dominance with words like -
shit-faced - drunk or wasted
the shit - the best
not give a shit - not care
Deep shit - a lot of trouble
Up shit creek - a very bad situation
Holy shit - used to express surprise, shock or impressiveness, etc.
“Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” famous lines from the movie Gone with the wind was voted the #1 movie line of all time in 2005.
‘Damn’, has been relatively common amongst people and even in movies. Having its origins in Latin with the word ‘damnum’ meaning to damage, hurt or harm and the verb ‘damnare’ meaning "to adjudge guilty; to doom; to condemn, blame, reject". Its a mildly profane word although "God damn" may be considered blasphemous by religious people, who regard it as a violation of the commandment against taking God’s name in vain. Additionally, the euphemism "dang" was first used around 1780.
After breaking the word into two halves, ‘bull’ traces us back to an old french word Bole, which developed into the Middle English "bull," meaning "false talk, fraud," was used in the 14th century. And as we now know where ‘shit’ comes from, we can put them together as - bullshit. It's often used as it is.
According to Slate, the Oxford English Dictionary cites the first known instance of "motherfucker" being used in an 1889 Texas trial where a witness stated that the defendant in the case was called "that God damned mother-f—king, bastardly son-of-a-bitch."
World War II was responsible for bringing the word into popular usage, perhaps most famously captured by Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, which features a character who basically uses it as every other word in a conversation.
With the ever-evolving swear words, we’ve got a lot of new and fancy ones but this one is actually derived from the world of farming. Yes, "crap" tended to point towards the stuff that was unwanted or discarded. It's no surprise that the word has continued to have that definition as time progressed.
In the late 15th century, it was "residue from renderings." Using it to mean "rubbish, nonsense" was first recorded in 1898.
Why do we swear?
Indeed using swear words often frees us from the feelings we hold. They can also be used in the form of jokes and humour, sex, storytelling, self-deprecation or even social commentary. These emotionally charged words can become so deeply ingrained in us that uttering them toes the line of being a physical act rather than a symbolic one, more like a sneeze than a sentence. Like the utterance of a single f-word can convey the state of a person, whether they are angry, upset, excited, surprised or aroused—and the intensity of that state.
Talking about our favourite four-lettered F-word, it has helped us get through the pain every time we stubbed our little toe while walking, let us understand why.
In 2009, researchers from Keele University’s School of Psychology in the U.K. set out to study whether swearing alters someone’s experience of pain, by conducting a social experiment where they observed how people dealt with the pain of submerging their hands in icy water. They found that swearing actually increases an individual’s pain tolerance. That is to say, people could withstand more discomfort if they repeated a swear word, rather than a non-swear word. It tells us how these words give a sense of comfort in difficult situations.
A similar social experiment is also seen in the Nicolas Cage starrer History of Swear Words. With the Academy Award winner as the host, the documented mini-series explores the History of different Swear Words through interviews with experts in etymology, pop culture, history and entertainment. Each 20-min episode has been divided into the origin, usage, and cultural impacts of specific swear words like: "fuck", "shit", "bitch", "dick", "damn" and "pussy."
Celebs and comedians like Nikki Glaser, London Hughes, Isaiah Whitlock Jr., Sarah Silverman, etc., and experts such as Kory Stamper, Benjamin K. Bergen, Mireille Miller-Young, Elwis Mitchel, and more, appear in the show in which they tell us about how they use these swear words in their lives and what meaning it beholds for them.