eyeWonder: Where Do Curse Words Come From?

In America, they still ‘beep’ out swear words; however many words are becoming more decensitised. Nowadays you can hear the words "ass", "b*tch", and even "nigga or nigger" on television and even the radio. I'm sure we have all said, or heard these words from a friend, relative, or someone who was just pissed off at us. But where exactly did these words originate from? I've always wondered this, so I've decided to look into it and this is what I found:

The word shit appeared about 1,000 years ago and can be traced back to Old Norse origin ’skíta’. It first leaked into Old English as ’scitte’ and from there forming into Middle English as ’sch?tte.’ Anglo-Saxon books use ’scittan’ as a reference to when the cattle had diarrhea.

For most of its history it was spelled ’shite’ though evidence of its now modern spelling can be found in books dated as far back as the mid-1700’s. Even today we find remains of the world in the Icelandic language. The words ’skítur’ (noun) and ’skíta’ (verb) are still used.

The word fuck, much like shit (and actually the majority of common curse words), came from languages with a Germanic background. It is believed that it came into our language from the Dutch around the 15th century. The word was so taboo that a small amount of documents remain that would allow us to have a better understanding of its origins. The reason that little evidence remains was that people at the time were too afraid to write the word down.

Using my handy “American Heritage Dictionary” it says that the first recorded instance in English literature was in a satirical poem called “Flen, Flyss” (c.1500). The word was not only disguised as a Latin word but encrypted as gxddbov which has been decrypted as fuccant, pseudo-Latin for “they fuck.”

The word asshole is from the word arse, which according to the Oxford English Dictionary has been in use since the 11th century to refer to the ass of an animal. Starting roughly around 14th century it was used to refer to a person’s buttocks. Around 1500 the combined form ‘arsehole’ was first used in its literal form to refer to the anus. The metaphorical use that refers to the worst place in a region (e.g., “the asshole of the world”) is first attested in print in 1865. Its use to refer to a despicable person is first record in 1933.

To the rest of the English speaking world, the word ass is still interpreted as donkey.

Yet another curse word (and some say the most offensive curse word) with origins stemming from Germanic cultures. They used the word ‘kunton’, which appeared as ‘kunta’ in Old Norse. The actual origin of ‘kunton’ is largely unknown though some theories exist. It didn’t have much success finding much about this word, so I took the easy route and went to Wikipedia. Some things in life can be easy, right?

There are cognates in most Germanic languages, such as the Swedish, Faroese and Old Norwegian kunta, Frisian kunte, Dutch kut, and German kott. While kont in Dutch refers to the buttocks, kut is considered far less offensive in Dutch speaking areas than cunt is in the English speaking world.

Relationships to similar-sounding words such as the Latin cunnus (vulva), and its derivatives French con, Spanish coño, and Portuguese cona, have not been conclusively demonstrated. Other Latin words related to cunnus: cuneatus, wedge-shaped; cuneo v. fasten with a wedge; (figurative) to wedge in, squeeze in, leading to English words like cuneiform (wedge-shaped).

It was commonly used in the 13th century as its anatomical meaning. It did not appear in any major dictionary of the English language from 1795 to 1961, when it was included in Webster’s Third New International Dictionary with the comment “usu. considered obscene”. Its first appearance in the Oxford English Dictionary was in 1972.

This curse word was originally a North American slang, and has spread to other varies forms of English. It is believed that the word ‘motherfucker’ dates back to 1918. Unlike the other words we’ve discussed, all other forms of the word have only been recorded in the 20th century.

We all know what the word means literally. This word is very cut and dry. Being as it is a fairly new word with respect to the other words listed here, not much more information exists. The word can have several non-literal meanings as well. In the 1960’s for example, the word was often used in reference to a talented musician, e.g. “that guy is a real motherfucker, man.”

The words actual meaning is used to refer to female dogs and other canines. Its second meaning (in reference to a female anyway) has been traced as a far back as around 1400. The first reference can be cited to Chester Pl. (p. 181) ‘Whom calleste thou queine, skabde biche?’ I wasn’t able to find a lot of information on the word beyond that. This was an easy one for me.

Of course there is an array of curse words that I didn’t cover but I thought I’d focus my attention on the more commonly used ones. Some words that I did want to add really had little to no information. For example, the word ‘cock’ is a Middle and Old English word but beyond that I was not able to find anymore information about it. Who knows, maybe I didn’t dig deep enough. Searching for the word ‘cock’ finds many sites and images that I wasn’t intending to look for.

t i f f a n y ♥
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