History of four letter words

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Expletive: An exclamation that is used to fill a vacancy, one that is usually vulgar.

Have you ever let one slip? If you have, and you probably have, you're not alone.

I imagine the first curse word was mentioned when Adam found out that Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit.

If one was mentioned before that, it was most likely when the first man to walk upright smashed his mouth while using a rock for a fork.

Many of our most popular movies and television comedies are laden with profanity, innuendos, double entendres (a word that when used, is meant to be understood in a vulgar way) and slang.

Even Disney movies do this -- so the adults will be entertained while sitting with their children in the theater.

However, this isn't new to this generation.

The English loved their adult humor just as much as or more than us. In fact, Chaucer's "The Canterbury Tales," used humor that would cross the line even in today's society, and this is a likely reason that students still enjoy studying him.

Even the Holy Bible has phrases that were considered profane: II Kings, 18:27, "Eat their own dung, and ..." (look it up and read the rest).

Our language is dynamic and it always has been. Words that were once profane are now acceptable -- gosh, golly, darn, dang, shoot, geeze, frick, frack, Jiminy Christmas, etc.

However, these words are just as much a profanity as any other, simply because of when and how we use them.

We instantly shudder when we hear certain words used in mixed company. As a matter of fact, there are several biblical words that if used in church today, would cause mothers and fathers to cover their children's ears.

Oh, and another darn thing -- pardon my French. Have you ever wondered why it is so common to say, "Pardon my French," after cursing? Well, since we brought our language with us from Mother England, our ancestors brought this phrase here with them.

In English society, there were many words that were not considered the Queen's English. Since the English society was a hierarchy of social classes, the poor had their own language that was mixed with slang commonly used in other languages. If the poor had a colorful four-letter word that wasn't considered proper English, it was deemed vulgar or foreign.

Often, foreigners, especially the French, were enemies and were considered below Englishmen.

So, not only when they cursed, but when they would behave in any vulgar way, they were essentially saying, excuse me for acting like a Frenchmen -- notice that the word, "pardon," is a French word.

Every language and every dialect has "forbidden" language. From the most refined individual to the least, we are all guilty of using a "word" when we are angered, in pain or elated.

When our nerves fire and our mouths open at the same time, there's no telling what may come out.