Where did swear words originate?

As the title says - what’s the history of swear words?

Who made them up / what was their historical meaning?


Isn’t this more of a General Question than a Great Debate?

In any case, I think you gotta be more specific. Which swear word(s) in particular are you looking for the history of, in which language?

In brief, most of 'em seem to originate either from religious (e.g., “damn”, “hell”) or sexual or excretory (no examples needed, right?) terms.

I agree that this is a General Question (in which Forum you will next find this thread).

while waiting for more illuminating answers, you might want to check out this recent thread on the topic:
Question about historical cuss words, in English.

[ /Moderating ]

I would venture to say that there’s been swear words for as long as there’s been language, but this dates back to prehistoric times so we can’t know for sure.

Flim flam! I have no idea.

[Just saying hi to a relative :)]

No one fucking knows.

They all come from acronyms with complicated and unlikely, but conveniently amusing, backstories.


IIRC, in one of the experimental situations where they teach apes sign language, they had taught them to sign for Food, No-Food, Poop, Person, Monkey, and such concepts.

The first spontaneous sentence any of them did was when one of them was mad at another and spontaneously signed “Poop Monkey!” at the other one.

So it’s inherent.

Here is a pretty complete treatment of one of our favorites, and it pretty much dusts
Some of the other things put forth here:


Cuss words exist in every language. It’s a way to use words with out using weapons, to provoke a response, a shock, or make a strong point by invoking and/or abusing sacred values in an inappropriate way. In short – cursing has ALWAYS been in use, no “one” invented it/them it’s just a way that all societies have used their languages to push the social envelope. “Thems’ fighten’ words!”, so to speak.



Agnostic Pagan, If you insist upon using language like that, we must ask you to leave the party now!
Here is another tid bit on the matter:


Hope that helps…

As I recall, the “B-word” was supposed to be an indicator of an act so terrible that no civilized species could even contemplate it. What act could that possibly be? (Note that humans, as a thoroughly uncivilized species, are perfectly capable of thinking it!)

What’s so terrible about calling someone a female dog? Or are you referring to the child of unmarried parents? Or to buttfu… oh, I see. You mean Belgium. The “act” must refer to putting mayonnaise on french fries. <<shudder>>

Swear words in English – like in most languages – started out as blasphamy. “God’s wounds,” for instance, was a very shocking oath in middle English, so much so that people coined the word “zounds” as a way to avoid using it. Blasphemy involved linking holy image with mundane things, so there was quite a large number of “swear words” (or phrases) in middle English and the like.

Now, most swear words have to do with sex or excrement. Most are quite old, dating back to the earliest days of the language. Some were not even considered “bad words,” but were just the common name for something.

A few origins:

“cunt” – very, very old. The OED’s earliest cite is from 1230, but that was from a London Street named “Gropecuntelane” where prostitutes hung out. The root dates way back and gave rise to similar words in Old Norse, Old Frisan, and Middle Low German.

“Fuck” – earliest cite: 1503, though everyone agrees it was used long before that. The etymology is unclear, but there are similar forms in German and Scandinavian languages, as well as Dutch. Experts lean toward the Scandinavian origin.

“shit” – 1308; seems to come from Old English from a form believed to be *scitan (the * means there’s no actual example of this – not unusual in ancient languages – but it fits according to other information). There are similar words in all Germanic Languages.

“piss” — c1290 from a French word with the same meaning.

“Ass” – Very old, but its oldest meaning is “donkey.” It beame a euphemism for the Middle English “arse,” which was too rude to be used in polite conversation. By the 19th Century, the word “donkey” was used to replace the name of the animal.

“Bitch” – meant a female dog, of course, but began to be used as a pejorative for a woman as early as 1400.

“cock” – meant a male bird as far back as 857 AD. First used in current meaning in 1618. Possibly because roosters (another Victorian euphemism) were known to be sexually agressive.

Actually, bubblegum, you need to come back and clarify your question.

Did you simply mean learning the etymology of various words that are currently considered taboo in English? Then RealityChuck’s post provides a decent starting point.

On the other hand, if you meant how did certain words or phrases become taboo, you are asking a different question. For example, piss and shit were simply the normal verbs for certain actions for many years. At some point, society decided that such language was “crude” or “uncultured” and we bagan creating euphemisms or borrowing expressions from other languages to avoid saying the “common” words, at which point the common words became taboo.
In a reverse process, words that were horrifying to people a few hundred years ago when the culture was permeated with religion have lost much of their sting. Invoking “God” or “Jesus” in inappropriate ways could actually lead to civil punishments at different times and was still considered a “bad thing” when I was a kid, yet no one even remarks on them any more and their presence will not even change a G rated movie to PG.

So which question were you asking?

I thought they were words of curse. And if you said them all together and in a concentrated amount in a short period of time, Demons will appear. and Kenny will die.

I would wager this happened quite a few times, especially in places where foreign-speaking invaders came in and took over, spreading their version of “civilization.”

Using euphemism A got you labeled as part of the original indigenous population, therefore barbarous; using euphemism B labeled you as part of the elite and successful and more-educated invaders. (Or perhaps the other way around, depending on which side you were on.)

Of course, my theory suggests there are more swear-words in a region which was invaded a lot; and fewer in an area devoid of a history of invasion by foreign-speaking dogs.