Words which became considered "offensive" - why?

OK, I did try a search, but, no joy.

Now, there are some words that are used, (but I’ll carefully not use them in GQ lest any delicate souls become offended) which relate to matters physical and/or amorous, That is, to bodily parts, or intimate activities that people largely enjoy and approve of.

So how did they come to be regarded/used as just about the nastiest “swear words”, “obscenities”, whatever. I don’t mean int he sense that their usage might embarras a shy and virginal nun, but that they are used as a sort of verbal attack.

It’s tempting to assume that this follows on from a bit of Victorian prudery, but, well, that just seems too pat to me. Of course, the annoying thing is that I am sure I have found an answer to this before, but today I cannot. Oh, a search on Google produced a ton/tonne of links, but …not very informative ones.

(Well, not informative in the required sense, anyway.)

So - are there any clever Doprs who can help, please?

Well, if there is a substance that’s really disgusting and smells awful, and you compare someone to that substance, offence can be assumed.

The subjective disgusting/awful may come from evolutionary forces leading the avoidance or clean-up of feces, for instance.
And from another perspective, if a person is motivated to want to attack or debase another, it may be functional to make the attack symbolic (verbal) rather than real (physical). Fewer members of the family die that way.

Yeah, well it’s nice if fewer people die, mainly.:slight_smile: Good point! But I wasn’t thinking of faecal associations, more of f***, c*** etc.

I can think of 2 reasons

#1- Since way back when, excretory and sexual activities were considered dirty and offensive by JudeoChristian Culture. Uncle Cecil’s collumn on chastity belts cites a reference to one in Exodus, the term for the belt is an anagram for ‘here is the place of shameful deeds’. The Hebrews are also told to keep the outhouses well away from camp. If the activities and related body parts and byproducts are dirty, the words for them are dirty by association. They must be reffered to obliquely. (Powder your nose, answer nature’s call, freshen up, etc)

While Judaism has a generally enthusiastic attitude about sex ( The author of Boychiks In The Hood-Travels In The Hasidic Underground asks a group of orthodox rabbis about the sheet with a hole in it  UL. All the rabbis insist there's no truth to it. One cheerfully says "Our business is to give our wives pleasure!"), many early Christian authorities thought it was a necessary evil. To them sex, coming after the fall, was dirty, and sinful. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. Physical needs and processes, including eating and evacuating, were disgusting and impure. 

#2- I can’t remember where I read this theory-
Modern English is a mixture of Latinate and Teutonic languages. It was one particular conquest that introduced Latin into English. (This part is true enough though I can’t recall the details or dates at the moment. Somebody with more knowledge of Normans and Saxons will no doubt be along shortly to correct any mistakes and fill in details). The populace came to view Latinate words as high class and proper, and Teutonic ones as low class and vulgar. Thus sht (IIRC from the Teutonic shess) was replaced with the Latinate defecate etc.

<Hijack>
In one of Bertrand Russell’s books, he discussed the banning of one of Margaret Sanger’s writings on birth control. It was ruled at the time that her writing was illegal and another’s on the same subject was not, because unlike Dr. Stope’s books, Sanger used language the working class could actually understand.
</Hijack>

It’s ironic to me, because, my understanding is that etymologically, “Asian” and “Oriental” have identical meanings (“east”) – just one’s Greek and the other Latin.

Thanks, folks, and I like the Margaret Sanger story, though not the banning of her work).

Ah well, see, I can see that the words have been considered “indelicate” or “indecorous”, but am just not sure when phrases along the lines of “F*** you!” etc came into use.

But thank you all, and do have a happy or evil - you choose - Samhain/Hallowe’en! Me, I’ll now worry that I will mix up my wondering about this question with my postings on another board about the origin of the word “guising”. Heheh - tht would be “how to get banned, in one easy lesson”! :slight_smile:

Dunno about that particular phrase; the Scottish poet William Dunbar is one of the first to use “f***”, but he uses it in the sense of “to have sex,” not as an insult. Some of our other verbal insults, however, are surprisingly old. The 15th century York mystery play about Cain and Abel opens with the arresting line, “Come kiss my arse!”

Chaucer uses the word “queynte,” the ancestor of our “c***,” rather liberally, in contexts that suggest it was considered a bit vulgar but not nearly as obscene as it is today. Shakespeare, as far as I can remember, doesn’t use it directly but engages in a bit of innuendo on occasion (when Malvolio is trying to figure out whether the love note he has found is in Olivia’s handwriting, he makes a comment along the lines of “these be her very C’s, her U’s, ‘n’ her T’s, and thus makes she her great P’s” – a line that baffled Victorian critics, since several of these letters are not in the note). To my mind, this suggests that the word entered the realm of the unmentionable sometime between 1400 and 1600, although of course it’s always hard to tell.