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Literature: Shakespeare

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The evolution of written profanity began roughly in the sixteenth century, and
continues to change with each generation that it sees. Profanity is recognized
in many Shakespearean works, and has continually evolved into the profane
language used today. Some cuss words have somehow maintained their original
meanings throughout hundreds of years, while many others have completely changed
meaning or simply fallen out of use. William Shakespeare, though it is not
widely taught, was not a very clean writer. In fact, he was somewhat of a potty
mouth. His works encompassed a lot of things that some people wish he had not.
"That includes a fair helping of sex, violence, crime, horror, politics,
religion, anti-authoritarianism, anti-semitism, racism, xenophobia, sexism,
jealousy, profanity, satire, and controversy of all kinds" (Macrone 6). In
his time, religious and moral curses were more offensive than biological curses.
Most all original (before being censored) Shakespearean works contain very
offensive profanity, mostly religious, which is probably one of many reasons
that his works were and are so popular. "Shakespeare pushed a lot of
buttons in his day- which is one reason he was so phenomenally popular. Despite
what they tell you, people like having their buttons pushed" (Macrone 6).
Because his works contained so many of these profane words or phrases, they were
censored to protect the innocent minds of the teenagers who are required to read
them, and also because they were blasphemous and offensive. Almost all of the
profanity was removed, and that that was not had just reason for being there.
Some of the Bard's censored oaths are; "God's blessing on your beard"
Love's Labors Lost, II.i.203 This was a very rude curse because a man's facial
hair was a point of pride for him. and "to play with someone's beard"
was to insult him. "God's body" 1 Henry IV,II.i.26 Swearing by
Christ's body, (or any part thereof,) was off limits in civil discourse.
"God's Bod(y)kins, man" Hamlet, II.ii.529 The word bod(y)kin means
"little body" or "dear body," but adding the cute little
suffix does not make this curse any more acceptable. "By God's [blest]
mother!" 2 Henry VI, II.i; 3 Henry VI, III.ii; Henry VIII, V.i Swearing by
the virgin was almost as rude as swearing by her son, especially when addressing
a catholic cathedral as Gloucester did in 2 Henry VI, II.i Perhaps the two worst
of these Shakespearean swears were "'zounds" and "'sblood."
"'Zounds" had twenty-three occurrences. Ten of them were in 1 Henry
IV. The rest appear in Titus (once), Richard III (four times), Romeo and Juliet
(twice), and Othello ( six times). Iago and Falstaff were the worst offenders.
'Zounds has evolved into somewhat of a silly and meaningless word, but was
originally horribly offensive. This oath, short for "God's wounds,"
was extremely offensive because references to the wounds or blood of Christ were
thought especially outrageous, as they touched directly on the crucifixion.
"'Sblood" had twelve occurrences in all. There were eight times in 1
Henry IV (with Falstaff accounting for six), plus once in Henry V, twice in
Hamlet, and once in Othello. 'Sblood occurs less than 'zounds, but is equally
offensive and means basically the same thing. Several other words came from
Great Britain, but were not included in Shakespeare's works. Today the
expression "Gadzooks!" is not particularly offensive to most. Of
course, most don't know what it originally meant. Gadzooks was originally slang
for "God's hooks," and was equally offensive to 'zounds and 'sblood as
it also referred to the crucifixion. An interesting note is that there is a
store called Gadzooks which everyone thinks of as a pop-culture vendor to
America's youth. Some (but not many) of Gadzooks' shoppers would be very
offended if they knew the true meaning of the store's name. Another word from
this region is a Cockney expression, "Gorblimey," which is a word used
to swear to the truth, and is a shortened form of "God blind me."
Also, in England, words such as "bloody," "blimey," "blinkin',"
beginning with the letters "BL" are taken offense to because they,
once again, refer to the blood of Christ and the crucifixion. The military has
an interesting technique for swearing their brains out without offending anyone.
"They use the phonetic alphabet (A= Alpha, B= Bravo, C= Charlie, etc.) as a
code for their swearing" (Interview). For instance, instead of saying
"bull*censored*," they would say "bravo charlie." Or instead
of the horribly offensive blasphemous cuss word, they could say "golf
delta." Most people are familiar with the swear words that are still used.
These "four-letter words" aren't necessarily four letters long, but
more or less, they get the same point across as their four lettered friends.
Such words usually include crap, ass, *censored*, bitch, *censored*, and damn.
There are many variations on the usage and placement of these words, but they
still pack a punch. The word "crap" dates back as early as 1846, and
is usually used as a euphemism for *censored*, yet many people find it equally
offensive. As most cuss words do, crap has several different variations, such
as, "eat crap," "crap-ass," and "crapola." The
meaning has not evolved since its first publication, where it was defined simply
as "excrement" (Lighter 508). The word "ass" had its first
publication as a swear word (as opposed to a donkey) in the Oxford English
Dictionary in 1556. "Whyyped...at the cartt es arse...for vacabondes."
This is not the definition commonly used today, but is still a vulgar way of
using the word. This means that back of an object, whereas the more widely used
definition is "of the rump, the buttocks, rectum, and anus" (Lighter
37). The more common definition was first recorded in "Covent Garden
Drollery." The word actually started out as Пrs, then evolved into
arse (which is the German translation also), and finally evolved into ass.
"Shit" is, when used as an interjection, "An expression of strong
disgust or disappointment," but is, when used as a noun, "Anything
inferior, ugly, cheap, or disgusting" (Flexner 467). Shit can be placed
with just about any word and make a cute little expression. Some examples are,
"*censored* head," "*censored*ting bricks," and the colorful
little phrase, "*censored* or get off of the pot." Bitch was first
used in 1400 in F and H, and has, quite amazingly, maintained its original
meaning for over five hundred years. It's definition in F and H was "a
malicious , spiteful, promiscuous, or otherwise despicable woman" (Lighter
169). It is also used today to describe "a sexually promiscuous young
woman, a male homosexual who plays the female role in copulation, an ill
tempered homosexual male, an infuriatingly large object, or something especially
disagreeable" (Lighter 169-70), among various others. There are many other
forms of the word, such as "bitch kitty," or "bitch
session," which is basically when a group of people get together and whine
about how terrible their lives are, quite fun! "Fuck" is probably the
most offensive swear word used. The earliest use of it is in
"Verbatim" in 1500, which says, "Non sunt in celi/quia fuccant
uuiuys of heli." The meaning, unlike the language, has remained the same,
however. It still means "to copulate" (Lighter 831). Some popular
variations of it are "*censored* a duck," "*censored*ed by the
fickle finger of fate," (Reinhold 79) "*censored*ed up and far from
home," and "*censored*ing A." The word "damn" itself is
not extremely offensive, but is rather used as an intensifier of other words or
phrases. When placed with God, however, it becomes a horrible, blasphemous word,
which is, to many, more offensive than *censored*. This type of thinking goes
back to the sixteenth century when religious curses were far worse than
biological. G.D. goes back to 1697, when D. Defoe, in G. Hughes Swearing 209
said, "G.D. ye, does not sit well upon a female tongue" (Lighter 914).
Swear words can be used in pairs such as "*censored*ing bitch," and
"*censored* me in the goat's ass" to intensify and make the swearing
humorous. They can also be used as compliments. Words like "bitchen"
have been used since 1957 when Gidget said, "It was a bitchen day too. The
sun was out...in Southern California" (Lighter 171). Profanity has evolved
from the religious curses of Old England and the biological curses of today not
only in meaning, but also in intensity. Besides G.D. , the only curses that are
offensive today are the biological curses that make sentences, movies, and just
about anything more graphic or offensive than had the word been left out.
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