14th November 2006
There is an interesting article on profanity in classical authors by Barry Baldwin over at Shatter Colors Literary Review. The article, “Classical Swearing: A Vade-Mecum,” surveys the history of swearing in classical times.
Here is an excerpt:
You might expect the Greeks who supposedly had a word for everything (actually they didnâ€™t: no noun for â€œorgasmâ€?, though one supposes they did have them) and the Romans (likewise lacking a term for â€œsuicideâ€?, despite all that falling on swords in Shakespeare) with their reputation for plain speaking would not line up with the American Indians, Japanese, Malayans, and Polynesians who do not curse but rather with those many cultures in which – as Geoffrey Hughes puts it in his book of that name – â€œSwearing is fascinating in its protean diversity and poetic creativity, while being simultaneously shocking in its ugliness and cruelty. It draws upon such powerful and incongruous resonators as religion, sex, madness, excretion, and nationality, upon an extraordinary variety of attitudes including the violent, the shocking, the absurd, and the impossible.â€?
The article is mildly fascinating, though be warned: it does contain swear words!