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Mr. Mask
05-21-2013, 10:58 AM
Does anyone know good resources for learning how ancient people of various eras would speak when being crude and the like?

I'm rather sick of seeing modern swearing and profanity in ancient settings, and would like to do some research on what accurate cussing was like.


I'm not asking for any particular period... because I am in doubt that there is much good information on this subject. Examples near 1,000 AD would be preferable, but I'll take what I can get.

Medievalist
05-21-2013, 11:16 AM
All our current curse words have Anglo-Saxon / Old English derivations, so c. 700-c.1100.

But with one possible exception, fuck, they weren't curse words; they were the words the language had for basic meanings.

Curse, by the way, means something very different from swear, and neither are necessarily obscene.

You'll notice things like ods bodkins, b'are lady, etc. from about 1450 on to about 1700 or so. You'll see them in Shakespeare.

There's an Old Irish oath from c. 700 that translates "I swear by the gods my people swear by."

cornflake
05-21-2013, 11:23 AM
Does anyone know good resources for learning how ancient people of various eras would speak when being crude and the like?

I'm rather sick of seeing modern swearing and profanity in ancient settings, and would like to do some research on what accurate cussing was like.


I'm not asking for any particular period... because I am in doubt that there is much good information on this subject. Examples near 1,000 AD would be preferable, but I'll take what I can get.

Why would you doubt there'd be much on the subject? I can think of few etymological-type subjects there's likely more on.

Could you clarify what you're looking for though? There's a difference, to me, between 'being crude' and swearing, in general.

kuwisdelu
05-21-2013, 12:18 PM
I'm rather sick of seeing modern swearing and profanity in ancient settings, and would like to do some research on what accurate cussing was like.

I guess it depends on what you consider "ancient". I still find it kind of weird and amusing when people call "anachronism!" on words that are simply older than they think they are.

mirandashell
05-21-2013, 02:38 PM
I still find it amusing when people think a thousand years ago is ancient........

Mr. Mask
05-21-2013, 04:38 PM
I still find it amusing when people think a thousand years ago is ancient........ If someone could tell me about old Roman cussing, I'd be just as interested.



I guess it depends on what you consider "ancient". I still find it kind of weird and amusing when people call "anachronism!" on words that are simply older than they think they are. Well, "fuck" can be traced back to the late 1400s at least as existing and having the same definition (sexual intercourse). The question is, when did it start being used as profanity in our current grammatical fashion, or even as a bad word? For example, people can say, "this Fing chair" when furious at a chair, despite the fact it doesn't really make logical sense (similar to saying "F you" to someone you dislike), because of the odd way our language and society develops.

The word gained notoriety at least as early as the 1700s in a book which listed low and vulgar words. Of course, that's not to say it was used the same way it is now.



Why would you doubt there'd be much on the subject? I can think of few etymological-type subjects there's likely more on.

Could you clarify what you're looking for though? There's a difference, to me, between 'being crude' and swearing, in general. Mostly, because old records aren't likely to have examples of crude conversation, and many accounts get destroyed or lost depending on the place and time (if they even keep accounts).

Basically what I want, is to know how people of old would speak when being crude and insulting to one and other. In some languages, you get called a son of an owl.



All our current curse words have Anglo-Saxon / Old English derivations, so c. 700-c.1100.

But with one possible exception, fuck, they weren't curse words; they were the words the language had for basic meanings.

Curse, by the way, means something very different from swear, and neither are necessarily obscene.

You'll notice things like ods bodkins, b'are lady, etc. from about 1450 on to about 1700 or so. You'll see them in Shakespeare.

There's an Old Irish oath from c. 700 that translates "I swear by the gods my people swear by." Mm, that's where it gets tricky. Some words which are considered dirty now were clean back then, and vice versa.

I'm sorry to cause confusion by using the word "swear". I am referring specifically to bad language, cursing, profanity, and crudity.

A friend of mine recommended Shakespeare also. Been a while since I saw any of the plays. Any suggestions for which one is a good example?

Buffysquirrel
05-21-2013, 04:56 PM
For the ancient Romans, cursing meant something different from what we mean by it today. It meant putting a curse on someone, wishing them ill. There are sites where they placed curse stones, on which were written the words of the curse. Often very vicious curses, too.

http://www.livescience.com/20483-black-magic-ancient-curses.html

Sonata
05-21-2013, 05:00 PM
Watch Monty Python's Holy Grail!

So sorry, I couldn't resist :D

benbenberi
05-21-2013, 05:44 PM
There was a long and fascinating article in Salon a couple of weeks ago about Victorian cussing that may be relevant:"The Modern History of Swearing (http://www.salon.com/2013/05/11/the_modern_history_of_swearing_where_all_the_dirti est_words_come_from/)."

For the Romans, I understand there's a lot of obscene graffiti in Pompeii.

ECathers
05-21-2013, 07:07 PM
Also it's important to look at the particular society you're writing about and what they valued and reviled. And also looking at some of our modern curses and extrapolating where they come from, might help.

Take for instance, the words "cur" "dog" and "bitch." A "dog" is actually the male of the species, though we commonly call all dogs, dogs now.

Cur comes from Old Norse kurra or Middle Low German, "to growl," and can refer to either a cowardly dog or a vicious one, either of which tend to growl. Cur was a rather common epithet in older times. Sort of sad to see it go out of general usage.

A bitch is obviously a female dog, and started being used to refer to a female human around the 1400s or so. Bitches can be exactly that. And when not in the mood to be humped on, can be quite snappish. (I mean how dare a female not be willing to be jumped on at any moment, by anyone who wants it right?)

Considering how often the word dog is paired with words like "lowly" it's obvious that dogs in ancient times weren't given a lot of respect and were thought of as subservient.

Obviously in cultures that didn't respect homosexuality, there were plenty of curses centered around that. Prostitution is another source of profanity in many languages. So are racial/national slurs against those other than the dominant culture in an area.

Wishing someone dead is also a biggie. So are names for various body parts. I'm sure I don't need to mention the big 4 in that category. And of course words to describe various bodily secretions.

And then of course various profanations related to the gods. (Which weren't always seen as profane at the time.)

ETA: Oh, and then there are plenty of words to describe undesirable traits: craven, blackguard, witch, etc.

Here are some links that might be useful:
http://blog.buttermouth.com/2008/04/how-to-swear-100-ways-in-20-languages.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Profanity
http://www.guardian.co.uk/notesandqueries/query/0,5753,-25546,00.html
http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/04/10/nine-things-you-probably-didnt-know-about-swear-words/

And the Shakespearean Insult Generator is much fun: http://www.pangloss.com/seidel/Shaker/index.html

OOH! Just found this: http://www.halfbakery.com/idea/Archaic_20Insult_20Repository

lorna_w
05-21-2013, 08:35 PM
I google specific terms I want. I was once looking for an old English or Anglo-Saxon word for "penis" and googled it and it came right up er, appeared quickly. Anyway (clears throat), they used "storch" (meaning, stork) for the same reason people use "cock": when you wring their necks to prepare them for dinner, the neck feels like one. I then realized that the "stork brings the baby" myth must connect to this, an adult joke about penises. Easy as storch pie, on google. You might have to try a few different searches to get there.

King Neptune
05-21-2013, 10:48 PM
I still find it amusing when people think a thousand years ago is ancient........

Have the same feeling. If you want ancient around me, then make it early Roman or earlier. Beowulf was only a few months ago.

King Neptune
05-21-2013, 10:56 PM
Does anyone know good resources for learning how ancient people of various eras would speak when being crude and the like?

I'm rather sick of seeing modern swearing and profanity in ancient settings, and would like to do some research on what accurate cussing was like.


I'm not asking for any particular period... because I am in doubt that there is much good information on this subject. Examples near 1,000 AD would be preferable, but I'll take what I can get.

In 1000 CE people would have cursed more than they would have used profane or just foul language. Curses would have been anything from wishing someone dead to swearing by "Odin's hairy nut sack" or similar. words for bodily functions and body parts were generally used in their natural way, and overtly sexual comments would have been perfectly common. People up until the 17th century said things in polite conversations that would not be acceptable today. Fecal matter was all around, so so referring to something as "a pile of shit" would have a more literal meaning than it has now.

I don't know the url, but there is a site that is dedicated to foul language around the world and through time.

Rufus Coppertop
05-22-2013, 02:20 PM
If someone could tell me about old Roman cussing, I'd be just as interested.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_profanity

Dave Hardy
05-22-2013, 05:22 PM
A good edition of Catullus with Latin & English side by side can be quite educational in that respect.

Rufus Coppertop
05-22-2013, 05:29 PM
Loeb do such an edition.