Time for a topic that dives into some very not-suitable-for-word territory. If you are sensitive to bad language, I advise you to skip this post. I will be discussing rude words.
If swear words don’t faze you, or if your curiosity has gotten the better of you, read on!
So, what are swear words? In the simplest sense, they are words that society one day decided carried particularly crude and/or insulting connotations. They didn’t necessarily start out as cuss words, but for one reason or another, became seen as such.
Take the word crap. Crap is a euphemism for poo. I can’t put it more bluntly. Since pooing is deemed an unsavoury act, crap is a word that carries negative connotations. ‘My football team played like crap yesterday’. However craps is also a casino game. As a word, it might also mean ‘boring or worthless’. It has evolved to be associated with an unpleasant bodily function, a colourful metaphor for a poor or low quality performance/product.
Yet crap is possibly slightly more socially acceptable than other swear words that have a similar meaning. The movies The Incredibles 2 and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish are both PG-rated, animated family films. Both feature the word ‘crap’, yet if they used the word ‘shit’, they might have been bumped up to 12A/PG-13 status. Shit is deemed less socially acceptable, yet when Jurassic Park first came out in 1993, it used the word, and in UK cinemas that movie was rated PG. Between now and then, something changed in our collective attitude to these two words. I cannot say what that was, but ‘crap’ seems acceptable, even within a family film, and ‘shit’ has become unacceptable.
A lot of swear words seem to relate to bodily functions, though not all. The word ‘bastard’ historically referred to a child born out of wedlock, and is now a generalised insult. The Simpsons once played upon the correct use of the word in an episode where Bart called Homer’s half-brother a bastard, a means of sticking a finger up at the censors. However, most swear words relate not merely to bodily functions, but sexual activity.
First and foremost is the word ‘fuck’. Like a lot of swear words, fuck can be an expression of delight, surprise, anger, and fear. It can also be used as a verb, and I should not have to explain what activity it refers to!
There are some words that may seem like swear words, and they’ve certainly become treated as such. ‘Cock’ and ‘dick’ are slang terms for the penis. They are seen as rude words (even though cock can also refer to a cockerel, and dick used to be a shortened form of Richard), as are terms like ‘pussy’, which has somehow become a slang term for the vagina (which just makes zero sense to me).
Swear words are likely to a colourful and expressive part of our vocabulary for a long time to come. Ain’t that fucking great?!