Friday, August 21, 2015
A Few Choice Words
My daughter and I had a conversation not long ago that I can't seem to get out of my mind. It involved the origin of words and phrases. She asked a very good question:
"Mom, where did cuss words come from? I mean, who decided that a certain word was 'bad' and another word wasn't as 'bad'?"
I had never really thought about that before, so I did a little research... meaning, of course, I searched the internet. I found a really great article on the Time.com website about the origin of verbal obscenities which stated that several of the most popular swear words have been found in Anglo-Saxon texts that date back over a thousand years. And the ancient Romans "laid the groundwork for modern day f-bombs." Whoda thunk?! My understanding from the information I read is that the words basically evolved into being thought of as crude and distasteful. I suppose it may have happened the same way political correctness began. Words that were at one point not thought of as being offensive, over time, became offensive to certain groups of people.
This line of thinking led me to ponder about other phrases and their origins. Emi and Teddy and I all laughed together one night thinking of phrases used today that must have had completely different meanings once upon a time.
(Disclaimer... I'm about to use the word "ass" a few times. If that offends you, please stop reading. I'm not offended by the use of that word, because as my church friend, Michelle, told me one time when I accidentally embarrassed myself by saying "crap" in the choir room, "Oh, don't worry about it. 'Ass' is in the Bible.")
These were two of our favorites: "Please move your ass," and "Get your ass out of the way."
Now, I didn't look these up. I really didn't think it was necessary. I just got the mental image of two people on a dirt trail, one trying to pass by while the other, with a donkey, is at a complete stop and blocking the way for others to pass. Traffic of the pre-auto world! Which totally makes sense to me, seeing as that's pretty much when I would be most likely to utter these choice phrases.
What about other cuss words? I wonder when sh*# became a dirty word. I would imagine at first it was purely the name of part of the digestive process. Same thing with crap, though that's not thought of as a really bad one. The f-bomb is pretty self-explanatory, I think. But I wonder where the words actually came from - slang gone wrong? Or were they actual words that would've appeared in a thousand-year-old dictionary with no negative connotations? I'm sure there's a smart person somewhere that has the answers.
I wonder if he cusses, too.