swearing for centuries, and those in power have been trying
to censor us for just as long.
Nowadays, many people are quite relaxed about swearing, although
they will be careful about the context - we still try to avoid
bad language in front of the children or in polite society.
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One of the best
places to find unspeakable English is the sports field. It's
not only the players who are adept in the use of colourful language
but also the fans, yelling obscenities at their team to drive
them forward. The bad language of the crowds can have another
purpose, according to John Williams, sociologist at Leicester
How has a category
of words developed with such a peculiar power to hurt, offend
and insult? It seems to have started with 'swearing by' people
or things, according to Geoffrey Hughes of the University of
the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg
old is that swear word?
believed that many of our current expletives can be traced back
to Anglo-Saxon. Kathryn Lowe, from Glasgow University, maintains
that this is a myth and that many swear words come from more
There are archive
records from the 14th century church courts, relating how ordinary
people spoke. These were ecclesiastical courts dealing with
lay and religious matters. According to historian Justin Champion,
in one archive from 1610, both sides abused each other using
choice language, much to the disgust of the court officials.
has been subject to censorship since the reign of Elizabeth
I. Perhaps the greatest censorship trial was over publication
of 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' by D H Lawrence in 1960. This book
contains several uses of the 'F' word. Social commentator, Richard
Hoggart, appeared at the trial and defended the book strongly.
In retrospect, he is surprised by how the 'F' word was then
such as 'you black bastard', have become the most explosive
swearwords of our time. Geoffrey Hughes has studied the effect
of these expressions in South Africa as has Kathryn Lowe in