Words have a lot of power. Think about it. When someone tells you that they love you, how does it feel? It’s just words, but it can lift your spirits and make you feel safe and wanted. When someone tells you that they are proud of you or that you’ve done a good job, it can have a similar effect. Words are everything… which is why swear words have such a hold on people.
The way some people react to hearing them so negatively, you’d think that they had been truly cursed by a devil. Swear words are potent and they can be a lot of fun. As a whole, most of the world likes to swear. However, most people don’t stop to think about where those words originated. It’s time to peel back the layers of history to get a better understanding of where certain swear words originated. This should be a fun fucking journey.
The Origin of Shit
Let’s start simply with one of the most commonly used swear words. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word shit has been used for a lot longer than you might think. In Old English, certain words were used to mean literal fecal matter, as you might expect. For example, scite meant dung and scitan meant to defecate. However, it does back even further to the Proto-Germanic language that began in the southern portion of Scandinavia. Their word for shit was skit.
The first time that shit was used to mean someone obnoxious was in 1508. Imagine being the first person to be called a shit. As the years progressed, so did the way the word was used.
The Online Etymology Dictionary found that the first use of “not give a shit” was in 1922. This use of the word means to lie or tease, such as “I’m just shitting you” was found to have been in 1934. Over the years, it’s been used in countless ways as a form of slang. Consider the phrases “up shit creek”, “shit list”, “shithead”, and “shit-faced”. They all mean different things although they are using the same word. One of the wonderful things about swear words is that they can be used in so many different ways. Now, let’s move on to another type of shit.
The Origin of Bullshit
There is a little bit more to break apart with bullshit. It’s traced to around 1914 when it meant “eloquent and insincere rhetoric”. To put it bluntly, it was used when someone wasn’t telling the truth. If they said something that was known to be untrue or thought to be impossible, you might say, “well that’s a load of bullshit”, for example.
So, why bullshit? In Middle English, bull was a term used for “false talk” or lying. Bull could have been derived from the word bole, an old French word that meant fraud or deceit. It’s thought that this could be why the bull was added to shit. Another thought is that it comes from the fact that literal bull shit stinks, just like a lie.
While this term doesn’t have quite as many variations in meaning today, there is another way that it’s used. When someone says, “That’s some bullshit,” it could mean that they are talking about something being unfair. For example, if they have to work a double shift because someone calls out from work for the third time, they might think that having the extra work foisted onto them is a “bunch of bullshit”.
The Origin of Asshole
Here’s another popular word that most of us have said at one point or another. This word comes from the word arsehole, which is derived from the Middle English arce-hoole. That word comes from Old English and the word earsoerl. This is a combination of two words from Latin meaning anus and hole… quite literal.
Interestingly, the word asshole didn’t mean someone who was a bad person until sometime in the mid-1930s. Before that, it seems to have meant someone’s actual butthole.
The Origins of Damn
Damn is about as mild as you can get when it comes to swear words. You can trace it back to Middle English in the 1300s. The words used at the time were dampen, damnen, and dammen. They were legal terms that meant to declare someone as being guilty or to convict them. Someone who was convicted would be damned in our more modern vernacular.
It was around this time that it was used to doom someone to punishment later, such as damning them to hell. The term god damn was used in the latter part of the 1300s, coming from godon, an Old French word. For some highly religious people today, the phrase god damn can invoke some anger, as they feel it is taking the Lord’s name in vain. Of course, there are far fewer people who are getting bent out of shape by the phrase today. The term “not give a damn” is from 1760, while “not worth a damn” is from 1817.
The Origins of Fuck
There is a lot of debate as to where this word originated despite it being one of the most popular swear words. Most will agree that it came from some type of Germanic language. The word was banned in many places because it was seen as being vulgar. It wasn’t allowed in many early written works, and it was not present in any dictionaries from 1795 to 1965. One of the earliest written pieces with the words is from the early 1500s, although it is thought to be much older.
Likely, we’ll never truly know the origins, but that’s okay. People have found many colorful and interesting ways to use the word over the years. Think of all of the ways that it can be used… “fuck you”, “fuck me”, “let’s fuck”, “fuck all”, “what the fuck”, “fucking fuck”, and the list goes on and on.
These are just some of the interesting swear words and their origins. There are plenty of other “forbidden words” out there that are just as interesting.