Friday, October 7

Etymology of Swearing, Motherfucker

I laughed myself silly last night watching the finale of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" Season 3 where Larry's act of charitable swearing -- to cover for his chef, who has Tourettes Syndrome -- results in his manager Jeff uttering the unforgettable words: "Cock! Cock! Jism! Grandma! Cock!"

The BBC's excellent Wikipedia-esque H2G2 peels back the years to look at the roots of Britain's favourite curse words:

"In the 1950s, construction kits like Meccano would be sold in boxes of various sizes. The list of contents which came with the standard size box would be headed 'Box, Standard' (which elided into 'bog standard' when spoken) and the larger box was the 'Box, Deluxe' which was spoonerised to create the phrase 'The Dog's Bollocks'. This is such a satisfying explanation for two common forms of British English usage that one really wants it to be true."

"There is also the phrase 'sweet Fanny Adams' which is sometimes abbreviated to 'sweet FA'. Fanny Adams was an eight-year-old child who was murdered and dismembered in Alton, Hampshire, in 1867. Her grave is still there. At around the same time, the British Navy started preserving chopped mutton in tins, and the sailors - always an uncouth lot - described this as 'sweet Fanny Adams' which eventually came to mean 'nothing of any good at all'."

"In 1230AD, both Oxford and London boasted districts called 'Gropecunte Lane', in reference to the prostitutes that worked there. The Oxford lane was later renamed the slightly less-contentious Magpie Lane, while London's version retained a sense of euphemism when it was changed to 'Threadneedle Street'. Records do not show whether it was a decision of intentional irony that eventually placed the Bank of England there.
The word has good Shakespearian usage, though even he was a little subtle. Hamlet asks whether he can lie in Ophelia's lap, 'I mean, my head upon your lap?' and then says 'Do you think I meant country matters?'"

"A phrase that, until recently, was almost exclusively American, is 'motherfucker'. Despite sounding very Oedipal, this does not have Freudian derivations. The word was apparently coined by African slaves to describe the slave owners who had raped the slave's mothers. Simple as that."

As the word 'piss' became categorised as vulgar, the phrase was modified - 'taking the micturations', later shortened to 'taking the mickey'

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