How have "dirty words" changed over time?

If people in the 18th or 19th century used bad language, what sorts of expressions would they use? Since most profanity from before the mid-20th century has been excised from print, I wonder what ordinary dirty talk would have sounded like over the centuries.

Insluting someone’s family was one fo the worst things you could do in South and Central Asia until recently.

Then came ‘yo mama’ jokes

According to Partridge’s Dictionary of Slang and unconventional English, the word “Fu*k” (keeping GQ clean) was around since c.1600 (how’s that for cultured redundancy?). It also reveals that expressions involving the word date back to a period from between 1600 and 1900.

Prior to the early part of the last century, it was impolite to use the word “bull.” Males in a herd of cattle were referred to as “he-cows.”

One did not mention the words breast or leg --Thus, the reference to white meat and dark meat. Even piano legs were often covered with fabric so as not to offend.

In the 1930’s “damn” was a little raunchy and almost didn’t make it to the final cut of Gone with the Wind..

When I was growing up in the 1940’s and 1950’s, saying darn was a little impolite, but you could get away with it if you stumped your toe in the middle of the night. I do remember getting belted in the face for saying “Good grief” as a teenager, but I had a sick mother. A movie called, I think, The Moon Is Blue introduced the word “virgin” to the screen in the early 1950’s. That was considered pretty wild.

I do not recall hearing f**k until I was twelve or fart until I was thirteen.

Geez was an acceptable substitute for “Jesus!” "If a child used “gosh darn” it was considered rude. And “Good God!” was a no-no. Hell, outside the context of religion, was frowned upon. So “Give 'em hell, Harry!” was not something that children would say.

I do remember getting my mouth washed out with soap in front of a group of my friends when my mother heard me use the word “jackass.” (It was not used in an attacking way – just a reference to the animal.

I grew up in the rural South and I’ve often wondered if guidelines were similar in other parts of the country.

The big bad dirty words – ct and f* are quite old and were most certainly used in the 18th and 19th century. C**k was also used, so much so that the Victorians invented the word “rooster” (along with “donkey”), and families with names like Hitchcock were embarassed to say their names aloud. Victorians were hung up on any language that had the slightest sexual overtones, and Americans of the time were the most concerned. You’d say “limbs” instead of “legs,” for instance.

But that doesn’t mean the cruder terms weren’t used; just that those in the upper and middle classes refrained from them.

Some older expressions that had sexual (and thus embarassing) connotations were “swive” and, believe it or not, “occupy.” If Shakespeare flew in an airplane and went to use the rest room, the notice “occupied” would have raised his eyebrows.

Although, there is a question as to whether that (esp. the piano story) is true. I’m pretty sure it’s only found in Francis Trollope’s “Domestic Manners of the Americans”, and that book, while a really fun read, isn’t really reliable. She didn’t really like America all that much, and there’s a thought that it was tounge in cheek…you know, “Look how prudish Americans are…they even cover up piano legs.”

IIRC the c**t started out as a coney (rhymes with honey) meaning rabbit, but eventually the meaning started to change to what it is today (together with the form of the word), allowing Shakespeare to intruduce a pun or two in his plays.

Something to ponder for New Yorkers seeking relaxation at Coney island. :eek:

BTW: Rabbit initially meant just baby coney.

And let’s not forget, the “N-word” has evolved from a common, if uncomplimentary, term into what many feel is a full-fledged obscenity over the last 50 years.

The word “fart” appears in The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer. How old is that? 12th century? 13th?

Hmmm… What’s the deal with all those stars? Oh…I get it, it’s a puzzle…:dubious:

f***, fk and fu*k = fuck?
t = cunt ?
c**k = cock ?

…and the N-Word is exactly what? :confused:

niggardly, negro, nigger?

Witon S*h

“The Canterbury Tales” were originally written in Middle English. While it has similarities to Modern English, it is still a different language and ‘fart’ may have been inserted by a translator.

“The Canterbury Tales” were begun in 1386 and continued until Chaucer’s death in 1400.

I’m with Captain Amazing here in thinking that Victorians were not as prim and proper as some writers portrayed them. I work with letters from the early 1900s and have ran across open references to sex as well as the ocassional “damn,” even one g** damn.:eek:

I thought it was ‘cunny’ not ‘coney’?

and slightly aside, regional differences are interesting; I used the term ‘dick’ when I was a visiting teacher to my friend’s class in New England and the kids were shocked and started laughing, she told me afterwards that it was one of the banned words. Here in NZ, ‘dick’ is no big deal.

My assumption is that coney changed into cunny which changed into cunt.

This happened for a very limited time in only some parts of the English speaking world. It was certainly not the rule throughout all of the past. “Bull”, and “bullock” were both commonly used in the 1700s and 1600s. In the 1400s, there was a type of knife routinely called a “ballocks dagger”, “ballocks” referring to the scrotum and testicles.

Now, there’s another word that has undergone an interesting social evolution. At one time, it was considered to be a perfectly acceptable term in common and even medical (specifically gynecological) parlance, as late as the 1700s.

Again, far from universal, and the word seems to have gotten a lot of use without raising any eyebrows in England.

The word can be verified to be centuries old.

Hardly. Lemme guess, you learned the censored version of Little Drummer Boy, which has “ox and lamb kept time” instead of the original “ox and ass kept time”.

Actually, the words are unrelated, according to the OED.
Cunt comes from Old Norse “kunta” and seems to have always denote what it currently denotes.

Coney comes from the Old French “conil”, which is from the Latin “cuniculus”–rabbit.

Now, it does happen that “cunny” was a diminutive of “cunt” and “cunny” also a variant spelling of “coney”, but that was convergent coincidence, much like the “witch” in “witch hazel” has nothing to do with “witch” as in “incredibly hot and playful red-headed college girl who dances naked in the moonlight and chain-smokes”.

(Oops, had a senior year flashback…)

Ma’s out, Pa’s out
Let’s talk rude!
Pee, po, belly, bum, drawers!


Thus speaks the Online Etymology Dictionary:

However, I’m still not totally convinced about the Old Norse connection, as it has left no trace that I know of in present day Scandinavian.

“Fart” is in the original Middle English:

It’s older than that. The Scottish poet William Dunbar (d. circa 1520) uses it.

Another surprisingly old word, incidentally, is “dildo”; in Ben Jonson’s 1610 comedy, The Alchemist, a character returns home to find his house trashed and “Madame with a dildo” written on the walls.