When did people start swearing?

When did people start using curse words? Which stubbed toe started it all?

It was the first word

<stubs toe>Ugh!

I can’t imagine it was long after language began, really. I don’t think there’d be any way to know–it certainly predates writing.

People just kept using the same words, and certain words were then declared not suitable in polite company, and when that threshold was moved, it changed the value of the words that were on the other side of it.

It would be interesting to know what people with Tourette’s Syndrome said in 500 BC.

Or, in 1940, when it was considered “rough talk” to say “Gee whiz, fellas, she’s a swell dame”.

I would be surprised if there existed a language in which there were no “swear words”, which are often simply words that challenge authority…

probably not until after the 1950s

society was wholesome until then

It would make sense to address the OP in terms of *euphemisms. *My guess is that the first word to be replaced with a less graphic equivalent would be one describing defecation. It’s always been around and it’s always going to conjure up foul imagery.

The vast majority of curse words are associated with bodily functions, so I suspect there were dirty words from the instant there were words.

The use of profanity appears to have a pretty substantial psychological effect. For example, some studies suggest that our pain tolerance actually increases when we swear, and the emotional reaction of the people being sworn at can be quite strong. So… while the words themselves change over time, they’re tapping into part of our physiology that’s universally hard-wired into us.

It certainly seems like the graffiti from Pompeii contained plenty of them. I’m not sure exactly which words are being translated as privates, bugger, screw and defecate, but I’m guessing they weren’t the polite scientific terms.

I recall an anecdote aboutKoko, the gorilla who uses American Sign Language. When a monkey kept with her did something she didn’t like, she signed “monkey” and “feces,” in other words, “shitty monkey.”

While the extent to which Koko actually understands language is disputed, and this may just be a cute story, I think that associating “shit” with bad events may go back to the beginning of abstract thought.

Because, you know, shit happens…

There was plenty of swearing back in 1940. The problem is most people base their impressions of what 1940 was like on the heavily censored view they get from movies.

This. Generally, subcultures prone to using “foul” language have not been part of the historical record until very recent times. Their histories are living, then oral, then legend, then transcribed by someone who observes the niceties of his or her era… so we have no record of Greek hoplites saying, “Y’know, Mikos, fuck that rat-bastard Alexander.”

Apparently using the lords name in vain was enough of an issue in ancient Israel that it had to get its own commandment forbidding it.

I suspect blasphemy in general was a much larger component of swearing in most cultures then it is in the present day US

I’ve heard that the real cursing in the Deadwood era was heavily based on blasphemy, which would sound absurd and humorous to modern audiences… so the show authors updated it to modern equivalents.

I agree with this and I would say that profanity has been around since before language. I’d say it’s been around since the first primate through it’s feces at another primate.

My father yelled “goddammit” plenty of times in the 50s. Strangely, he never used any other curse words.

Not necessarily. It depends on the culture. The vast majority of French Canadian curse words are associated with religion.

In Quebec, the most profane swear words are based on blasphemy. E.g. “tabernack” (tabernacle), “shalees” (chalice) and the like, that are fine words in proper, that is religious, context.

My etymological dictionary from the 1930s has two entries: “ct" and "fk” of which it says, “One of the two SE [standard English] words that may not appear in print anywhere in the English speaking world”. I suppose “cunt” still retains the taboo, but probably more because it is sexist than a swear word. But I wonder what, if anything, has replaced “fuck” when you really mean it. Back in the 50s, it was reserved for really bad things, but it has become so common that it has lost much of its force.

A late colleague of mine arrived as a refugee in England in 1939, age 16. One of the first things he saw was a sign painted on the side of a building, “Fuck Hitler”. He knew what the word meant and could not imagine why someone was wishing a pleasurable act on Hitler. German has the cognate word “ficken”; it just doesn’t have the force.

But I don’t think you can have profanity until you have some kind of sanctity by contrast and that might not have come along until civilization.

I didn’t start until the middle high school, but I was a late bloomer.

Even primitive cultures have revered spirits and taboos. You could probably say something that would be shocking to other tribe members as soon as any kind of belief system developed.