Origin of common swear words

Origin of common swear words

As a society, we like to swear.

Swear words have a strange power over us. It starts when we are young, when they are deliciously taboo. Then, as we age, our dependence on swear words increases to the point where as an adult, we find that the magnitude of our emotions can only be captured by cursing.

Yes, many of us have grown attached to swear words, but only a fraction of us actually know where they came from. What old dead languages do we have to thank for some of the best words of all time?

We looked into this vital question and are here to report back to you what we have found. We leaned heavily on the Online Etymology Dictionary (OED) for information, in addition to various online dictionaries such as Merriam-WebsterDictionary.com and the free online Oxford Dictionary. (The internet can teach you things, everyone.)

We have Old English to thank for one of the most commonly used swear words in the United States.  Old English words such as scite (dung), scitte (diarrhea) and scitan (to defecate), all rooted in the Proto-Germanic skit-, evolved into Middle English schitte (excrement) and shiten (to defecate). It then evolved some more to the word we know and love today.

According to OED, “shit” has been used to mean an “obnoxious person” since 1508. The dictionary also has a list of common phrases involving “shit” and the approximate year they were first used. Here is some of what they found in their research:

  • 1922: “not give a shit”
  • 1937: “up shit creek”
  • 1942: “shit list”
  • 1960s: “shit-faced”
  • 1989: “same shit different day” Read more 


About The Author

Osigweh Lilian Oluchi is a graduate of the University of Lagos where she obtained a B.A (Hons) in English, Masters in Public and International affairs (MPIA). Currently works with 1stnews as a Database Manager / Writer. [email protected]

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