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areteus
06-09-2011, 06:48 PM
Had a vague thought in the bath today about something for one of my WIPs. Story is centred around two characters who are effectively immortal and one of them is put in a lot of pain and starts to swear... and it occured to me that an immortal need not necessarily swear in good old fashioned four letter anglo saxon.

So, I am looking for swear words that may have been used by older cultures - Mesopotamia, Babylonia, Persia, classical Greece and Rome, Egypt, etc. Anything, from any time period and any part of the world. Partly this is interest but I also do want to beef up my character's profane lexicon :)

dreamcatcher
06-09-2011, 07:10 PM
It's probably a little silly, but the Shakespearen insult list is pretty creative. Maybe you'll find something there. (http://www.museangel.net/insult.html)

I'd think using "god" or something similar would still be very appropriate. I'd imagine using the lord's name in vain was much more offensive back then!

areteus
06-09-2011, 07:48 PM
LOL, in this case possibly fatal as it may draw His attention :)
Shakespearian may work... thanks.

WriteKnight
06-09-2011, 08:23 PM
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_profanity

DeleyanLee
06-10-2011, 03:51 AM
Remember: "Swearing" used to be just that--the speaker swearing some fate upon someone.

Likewise, "cursing" was the same way--the speaker genuinely asking the Powers That Be to give someone a particularly evil fate.

We use the terms for single words or short phrases, but they used to be quite elaborate and were taken quite seriously in days gone by.

Just something to consider.

Chase
06-10-2011, 08:02 AM
An expletive or obscenity I recall from one of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (circa 1300) was "shitten," referring to excrement as the adjective "shitty" is used today.

evilrooster
06-10-2011, 11:01 AM
An expletive or obscenity I recall from one of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (circa 1300) was "shitten," referring to excrement as the adjective "shitty" is used today.

Catullus used the same adjective in poem 36: cacata carta, "shitty pages". (Catullus has some poems that use vocabulary that wasn't in my Latin dictionary. Fortunately, the text had a footnote defining them in Latin, using nouns I knew from modern medicine.)


Remember: "Swearing" used to be just that--the speaker swearing some fate upon someone.

Likewise, "cursing" was the same way--the speaker genuinely asking the Powers That Be to give someone a particularly evil fate.

We use the terms for single words or short phrases, but they used to be quite elaborate and were taken quite seriously in days gone by.

Just something to consider.

I think you're implying a greater difference between ancient practice and modern than can be sustained by the evidence.

It's true that people would swear, in the sense of vowing, and curse, in the sense of invoking harm on other people. We have some fascinating physical evidence of the rituals that they would do, some thoughtless as the way some modern people toss a pinch of spilled salt over their left shoulder, some as elaborate as any present-day religious ceremony.

But they also got mad and used foul language to vent. They were, after all, people, and as prone as modern people to bang their shins, hit their thumbs with hammers, or end up at cross-purposes with their neighbors. Foul language in those circumstances is a human trait, not a modern one.

Medievalist
06-10-2011, 11:17 AM
An expletive or obscenity I recall from one of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (circa 1300) was "shitten," referring to excrement as the adjective "shitty" is used today.

Except it wasn't really an expletive then; it's the word people used.

Cf. Chaucer General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. "A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep." l. 504.

Medievalist
06-10-2011, 11:33 AM
Personally, I'm a fan of Yiddish curses (http://www.metafilter.com/46780/May-you-grow-like-an-onion-with-your-head-in-the-ground).

evilrooster
06-10-2011, 12:14 PM
Except it wasn't really an expletive then; it's the word people used.

Cf. Chaucer General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales. "A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep." l. 504.

I'll take your word for it. Catullus was using it as an expletive, but Ye Olden Dayes weren't uniform across time or space.

areteus
06-10-2011, 01:11 PM
Lots of interesting ideas... I need to do some research for when I rewrite this :)

One thing I have always wondered about Chaucer and words such as 'shitten' - is this an indication of how the word was actually pronounced at the time or merely an example of the sort of spelling you got before the days it was standardised? Or maybe a bit of both?

Medievalist
06-10-2011, 07:20 PM
Lots of interesting ideas... I need to do some research for when I rewrite this :)

One thing I have always wondered about Chaucer and words such as 'shitten' - is this an indication of how the word was actually pronounced at the time or merely an example of the sort of spelling you got before the days it was standardised? Or maybe a bit of both?

We're pretty sure about the London/Southern dialect of Middle English in terms of pronunciation. For one thing, we know what the previous and successive language looked like, for another, we have lots and lots of it in meter, and even, end-rhymes.

Moreover, spelling was phonological; letters represented sounds.

Depending on how curious people are, I can post links of Middle and Old English audio.