Who decided what swear words were?

Who decided what words are bad in the English language?
Who made cuss words so bad?

written by your one n only ~>

  • SiLLy LiLLy *

Probably your mother.

Obviously, there is no “National Cuss Words Review Board” so it is just what is accepted socially. Most of that sort of thing (in spite of Robert Fulghum) is learned at home.

Notice how the acceptability of words changes. When I was a kid it wasn’t proper to say “pee”, so we would use euphemisms like “wee-wee” or something. But “pee” is just a euphemism for “piss” which was at one time an acceptable word (see your Bible). One generation’s euphemisms are the next generation’s forbidden terms.

But would we all really be happier without swear words? Aren’t they sometimes handy? If you want someone to know you are really upset you can use a “shocking” word to help get your point across. We’ve all met people who use swearing indiscriminately and they have lost the ability to make a really emphatic statement. (I suppose they could make a point by NOT swearing – I’ve known a few people who would surprise me if they did!)

“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”

Goddam Catholics, Protestants and other religious zealots.

Most of the early schools were started mainly for religious intstruction. The teachers there were clergymen, and later, clergywomen and nuns. Their instruction included punishing kids for “using the Lord’s name in vain.” This accounts for God dammit, holy anything, hell, jesus christ, etc. Also, sex was taboo, and outright rude, so anything involving sex: ass/hole, butt, fuck, etc. was deemed naughty. I can’t think of many curse words that aren’t either holy or sexual. I guess there’s “shit.” Don’t know how to explain that one.

I don’t know who first said “everyone’s a critic,” but I think it’s a really stupid saying.

pluto, they’re very handy!

“There are some instances in life when cursing provides a sense of relief denied even to prayer.” --Mark Twain (not exactly verbatim)

I think we shouldn’t be such tight-asses when it comes to using curses, as long as they’re not directed angrily at other people. Thus, saying “fuck you” is rude, but saying “shit!” when you burn yourself on the stove is fine. But you can call me a hypocrite, because as firmly as I believe this, I still don’t curse around my girlfriend’s parents…

I don’t know who first said “everyone’s a critic,” but I think it’s a really stupid saying.

I thought the Michigan legislature determined what language is to be deemed offensive…

I think we have to distinguish between profanity and obscenity. IMO, profanity is mocking holy or sacred things. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord, thy God, in vain.” And I think it is rightly the responsibility of religion in determining what is or is not acceptable. Words like “hell” or “damn” are profane in many contexts but I’ve also sung hymns in church that used those words.

But obscene words, by which I mean sexual or excretory terms, while certainly frowned upon by many religious people, probably received their taboo status more from Freudian-style conflicts than from religious teaching. Certain topics are off-limits in polite discussion even without any religious influence. Children who bring them up inappropriately are shushed, if not punished. We learn, slowly, how to talk about these things – when it is ok, what words to use when.

Admittedly, Americans are probably more hung up on these subjects than a lot of other societies, and some of those hang-ups are derived from religious scruples, but I don’t think you can make the case that obscenities are only defined by religion.

“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”

Pete –

That’s the point I was trying to make. If we didn’t have swear words we would invent them just to have something to say when we hit our thumb with a hammer.

“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”

Back sometime in grammar school or it may have been Jr.High, I remember History teacher telling us a lot of words the Saxons used such as shit, fuck, etc. were perfectly good everyday words. Then these Anglos came along and conquered the Saxons. Thinking they were better than the Saxons the Anglos said alot of the Saxon language was obscene.

He was one of the best teachers I ever had.
He was trying to show us “A Way To Learn” not just memorizing things for a test.

Anyway sounds good to me. Still.


Jack –

I’m dubious about the details of your post, but I think your point is essentially correct. I don’t think the Angles and the Saxons were all that different – both were Germanic invaders and their languages were probably not all that different. But the notion that otherwise ordinary words were made shameful by the upper class is probably correct as one way to create cuss words.

My guess is it’s more likely your teacher was referring to the Norman invasion. The Normans spoke French (or the eleventh century equivalent of French) and they insisted that French was to be the language of court and culture. It is actually quite a testimony of the strength of the English language (or the English people) that the native tongue survived the occupation. A few centuries later everyone was speaking English again (with a few French words thrown in for lagniappe.)

It is certainly true that most English obscenities are Anglo-Saxon derived. In fact we can use words like “defecate” and “urinate” and “copulate” in polite conversation because they are Latin-derived and are therefore “educated” terms, but we still can’t use their Anglo-Saxon equivalents even in serious discussions.

(But remember Mel Brooks speaking to the psychiatrist’s convention in “High Anxiety”?)

“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”
– William of Ockham

While we’re on the topic, what is the origin of this one:

“razzle frazzle”

I’ve heard it on cartoons since I was 4.

ex. Fred Flintstone drops a rock on his foot: “Razzle Frazzle!!!” it’s often accompanied with "of all the [razzle frazzle]

I don’t know who first said “everyone’s a critic,” but I think it’s a really stupid saying.

Just thought I’d add one more catagory to the list of words now thought to be obscene.
These words dont seem to fit the Sexual, religious or excretory classification but are shunned in polite conversation.
Bitch, broad… for women
Spic, nigger, honkey… applied to races
Fag, queer, dyke… referring to gays
I’m sure I left out quite a few but those should be enough to establish the catagory.

I must agree with Pluto’s post it was the Norman words that were considered acceptable and the Anglo-Saxon words that were deemed crude.

pluto said…

(with a few French words thrown in for lagniappe.)

Despite the area of primary usage (i.e., New Orleans), and the general sound of the word, lagniappe is not a French term. A lot of people here assume it is, but one of the French language professors I work with tells me it is not french, nor french derived. In fact it has such an obscure origin, that I’ve completely forgotten what it is! I’ll have to check with him to recall it.

The memory’s not what it used to be…


Who decided what swear words were?

George Carlin

EvilG. –

I agree. Thanks for teaching me.


“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”
– William of Ockham

From Miriam-Webster regarding lagniappe:

Etymology: American French, from American Spanish la ñapa the lagniappe
Date: 1849

I’ve seen the “la ñapa” derivation for lagniappe cited before, also. If you dig deeper, however, you’ll find that “la ñapa” is derived from the Quechuan word “yapay” (to give more). The Quechuan were the Incan ruling class and their language was spoken throughout much of South America. The Spanish invaders apropriated some of their terms, thus “la ñapa” and later, lagniappe.

As I said, obscure!

So, how far away from the original subject are we now?


Mes deux francs, mes amis (soon to be two euros) …


la*gniappe (noun)

[American French, from American Spanish la napa the lagniappe]

First appeared 1849

: a small gift given a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase; broadly

: something given or obtained gratuitously or by way of good measure

Terence in Marietta, GA

Be someone’s hero

I don’t know where lagniappe came from but I learned it from Mark Twain.

“non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem”
– William of Ockham

English contains an awful lot of French words, as do many other European languages, including Dutch, but always with Germanic equivalents.

I learned English when I was thirteen in Belgium and knowing French and Dutch helped quite a bit.

English is actually fascinating to me. It’s really a mixture of Scandinavian, Germanic and Latin languages.

As for swearwords, a lot of languages use profanity, shit and sexuality in that context.