TV

History of Swear Words

The most interesting aspect of the series is how it unintentionally reveals our conflicted relationship with profanity.

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Netflix's History of Swear Words isn't good, exactly. But the series flawlessly delivers on its premise: What if Nicolas Cage narrated a history of expletives?

Despite being a fan of both profanity and etymology, I learned a few new facts from Cage's manic, poorly rehearsed narration and the parade of talking heads propping him up. Hollering dirty words may actually help you tolerate physical pain better, for instance, and the word dick only gets bleeped on network TV when used anatomically rather than derogatorily.

The most interesting aspect of History of Swear Words is how it unintentionally reveals our conflicted relationship with profanity. "Damn" and "Bitch" are spelled out on the list of episode titles, while the other four get the asterisk treatment. Yet bitch is treated with by far the most delicacy and caution. Cage looks shiftily uncomfortable saying it in his opening monologue.

As society's aversion to obscenity or crudeness is fading, our vigilance about sexism is increasing. Maybe that's why words disparaging women have become more fraught than those that refer to the acts of copulation and excretion.

But just when I thought I had it all figured out, Cage and Co. cheerfully agree that the word pussy is nothing but good fun. Not unlike History of Swear Words itself.

NEXT: Cyberpunk 2077

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  1. That man is truly a national treasure. A gosh darn national treasure.

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    2. he was better looking when he was John Travolta

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  2. Did cage get a hair transplant?

    1. From Jack Dorsey’s beard trimmings.

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  3. George Carlin did “dirty words” best.

  4. Meh. English is not very creative in cussing. What do we have? Fuck – that works in almost any sentence. “What fuckin’ time is it?”

    Then we have ‘shit’ that works pretty well anywhere.

    I had an uncle, old school, he could cuss up in Yiddish like nothing else. Very creative curses.

    Yiddish words for penis.

    Schmuck (we all know that one)

    Putz (if you are from New York you know that one)

    Shmeckel (a small one. Add an ‘a’ at the end for smaller)

    Shvantz (now you’re talking)

    Shtupper (refers to a function therof)

    1. So if schmuck, shmeckel, shvantz, and Shtupper are all dick-related, what is Schmatta? Is that like a dick-rag?

      1. A schmatta.

        “I found this by our sons bed”

        “Leave him alone. It is just his schvantz schmatta”

    2. What the fucking fuck are you fucking fucks fucking doing? Fuck!

    3. I read somewhere that Hebrew, being only a liturgical language for centuries, lacked obscenities. When it was revived as a living language with the founding of Israel, they had to borrow (wholesale, if you’ll pardon the expression) all the profanities from the local Arabic.

      1. Nah, they came from Eastern Europe, they had plenty to start.

  5. Nigger.

    1. Perhaps the only true profanity left in American English.

      1. Although I suppose there are still people in the world who are shocked when people say “fuck” a lot.

      2. Precisely.

        Well, almost. It is really only considered profanity when the wrong people say it, which makes it quite distinct from most other “profane” language that is considered bad regardless of the speaker. Incidentally, wrapped up somewhere in there is a really good lesson that “profanity” is really just a method of mind control and, in most instances, an excuse for the government to crackdown on perceived wrongthink.

      3. How about “How much money do you make?” Profanities come and go. Social taboos have staying power.

      4. Perhaps the only true profanity left in American English.
        For half the country, perhaps. On the Left:
        “Confederate”
        “Cis-gender”
        “Dr. Seuss”
        “MAGA”
        And the one word to bind them all: “Trump.”

  6. I seen the series and was entertained. What disappointed me was that no one made the most profound quote about swear words that best sums up why obscenity laws are so dangerous:

    “If you can’t say ‘fuck,’ you can’t say ‘fuck the government.'”–Lenny Bruce.

  7. I’m not going to name the language that uses in completely normal, day to day discussions the phrase ‘go back to your mother’s bloody c&^%.’ I’ve heard it a million times, and many other adjectives can be added if you’re actually mad. The US has useless swear words, the world would laugh at ‘motherfu%^E#’ like, that’s seriously the best you got?

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