Why are so many swear words un-Latin?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by polar45, Sep 16, 2008.

  1. polar45 Registered Member

    Forgive my title, but why are so many swear words not of Latin origin? I'm not enough of an expert to say what their origins are, but it seems to me that a lot of the common swear words especially for body parts and functions are of (I assume, perhaps wrongly) Anglo-Saxon origin while the Latin equivalents are perfectly usable in almost any social situation? I'm curious to know in what historical context this occured and why.
    Last edited: Sep 16, 2008
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  3. orcot Valued Senior Member

    Swear words are usually abouth blasphamie and sex... English swear words are yused the most because most likly your english or american and you generally come in contact with a lot of anglo saks. Then their is offcourse TV who's the biggest influence why they use english swear words outside english country's.

    Belgium dude
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  5. nietzschefan Thread Killer Valued Senior Member

    Latinesque languages are phonetically underpowered for satisfying KKKurseing.
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  7. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

    It seems to me the most likely explanation is that Latin invaded the English language quite consciously, with Latin speakers tending to be the more educated and lettered types who decided to use a Latin term for a particular reason. Those people were less likely to be using them to swear in the first place and the speakers who understod the reference less likely to repeat it in that context. It was a formal language and used for formal purposes. Remember that, for most of the history of English, Latin was a language used almost exclusively by the clergy and that Latin (and Greek) words didn't start making their way into English in large numbers until the early-Renaissance (early 16th to 17th century), when wealthier aristocrats started picking them up to read works by Julius Caesar, Ovid, Virgil, Cicero and the like. People reading Virgil were not picking up many swear words from him.

    The common man and the lettered man when speaking informally had his everday English, and it had a wide variety of blue language. When speaking in those context he likely drew on that vocabulary, which was relatively more likely to have taught him "naughty" words in the first instance.
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    English is very poor in profanity. George Carlin's "seven dirty words" are very nearly our entire vocabulary of obscenity. So it stands to reason that most of them will be familiar old Anglo-Saxon words of Germanic origin that we've been carrying with us for three thousand years. Nonetheless, "piss" is French, which was the language of the English government and aristocracy for a couple of centuries after 1066.

    Still, the old ones eventually lose their power to offend. I hear women managers tossing around words like "asshole," "bullshit" and "piss off" in meetings. We keep having to invent new ones, but they never seem to be as powerful. You can call somebody a "pussy" (Dutch) or a "dick" (English) on television, and "fart" (ancient Germanic) and "crap" (Dutch) aren't even considered dirty words any more.

    Other languages have much richer profanity. Spanish has two equally obscene words for "fuck." When Hugo Chávez called George Bush a pendejo, and everybody in the American Southwest laughed, he was calling him a "pubic hair."
  9. Simon Anders Valued Senior Member

    It is a class issue. Normans and their 'high' Latinate speech and the lower classes in their 'vulgar' Anglo saxon. The latter were simply their words for body parts, etc., but since they were not the nose in the air noble words.....
  10. Arachnakid Linguist-In-Training Registered Senior Member

    Basically all of the swear words we use were once in common usage as plain words. Then when it became fashionable to speak French, the English words became "peasant" words and their usage "vulgar". The non-vulgar counterparts appear to be Latin-based because the language they come from is Latin-based.
  11. Nasor Valued Senior Member

    Yeah, it's very odd how most of our swear words were once considered perfectly polite (even though they referred to the exact same body parts/actions/whatever). Chaucer casually uses most of Carlin's 7 words in his writings, but at the time were just the ordinary, polite word for whatever body part he was referring to.

    The one exception to this is probably "fuck," which is of unknown origin and appears to have simply popped up in use as a swear word without ever going through a period of acceptability.
  12. Dinosaur Rational Skeptic Valued Senior Member

    Maybe the Romans had vulgar terms used in every day language that never were recorded in documents available to us.

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