A Brief History of Swearing
by Melissa Mohr
PE3724.S85 M65 2013
New Arrivals, 2nd floor
Monday was a tough day at work. I needed to understand a computer problem and, instead of either understanding or fixing the problem, I ended up making it worse. By the end of the day, I had managed to get everything back the way it was but I still did not understand the underlying issues. Let’s just say that a fly on the wall would have heard me muttering some choice words under my breath occasionally. On the other hand, when it came time to write the New Stuff Tuesday post I knew just which book to pick!
Melissa Mohr has written an entertaining and informative history of swearing in the western world. She traces the origins of modern American swear words to the ancient Romans and medieval Europeans. The contrast between the Romans, who were much more creative in their use of words related to filth and excrement than we are, and medieval Europeans, who believed that oaths such as “By God’s bones!” could actually injure God himself, provide the inspiration for Mohr’s division of swearing into roughly two categories: the “holy” and the “sh*t.”
This book provides a good overview of the history of Western Europe and the United States, although at the cost of ignoring swearing in the rest of the world. Mohr’s chapters on racially-charged words are difficult to read even though she took care to write sensitively about the subjects. If you need a break from your regularly scheduled academic reading, this is a kick@$$ read.
If you’ve read this book and/or have something to say about it we’d love to hear from you. Just reply below.