Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rude words from Julian

Dear Word Spy (or Word Snoop, for those of us who got the American edition),

Do you know how swear words became rude, instead of just ordinary words? Also, where did the term ‘Swear Word’ come from, instead of just ‘Rude Word’?

I am a curious 11-year-old, and I think that the way you wrote it to be suitable and interesting for today’s sports-obsessed generation was a stroke of genius.

Oh yeah, and was a lack of section on the origin of swear words requested by your publisher?

Your (polite) fan,

P.S. Have you read the Inheritance series, by Christopher Paolini? If you haven’t, I would recommend doing so. He has created a multitude of interesting new words there, for instance ‘Brisingr’, which is also the name of the third book in the series.

Dear Julian,

This is a great letter, thank you.(I'm SO glad you've enjoyed the book.)

I'm very interested in swear words too – also known as “four letter words” or “expletives” or “cursing”. And have you ever heard someone (usually quite old) say, “Pardon my French?” They actually mean, “Oops, sorry for swearing.”

Now, why is it called swearing? Well, it comes from an Old English word which meant “to take an oath”. An oath is a very solemn promise, usually made in the name of God. Early swear words were based on religion. Religious words are often thought of as taboo - a word for things you are not supposed to talk about. Religion can be a big taboo, and so are other things (I’m sure you can think of them!!)

This is where the mystery of the human personality comes in. When someone is angry or shocked or anxious about something, to relieve that tension they might suddenly say a taboo word and woooh! suddenly they feel a bit better. That’s why swearing is also found a lot in jokes, which relieve tension as well.

Mmm, I'm writing a sequel to "The Word Snoop" right at the moment - I was actually thinking of putting in a section on swear words...

And I definitely need to go and have a read of the "Inheritance" series - thanks for the tip.

Your sworn friend,
The Word Snoop

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