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The Beautiful History of Ugly Words

Everybody swears, or worries about not swearing, from the two year old who has just discovered the power of the potty mouth to the grandmother who wonders why every other word she hears begins with f and rhymes with cluck. Swearing is a fascinating linguistic phenomenon. How did certain words come to acquire the power to shock and offend us? Why are they the ones we turn to when we hit our thumb with a hammer, offer advice to other drivers, or indeed want to or express any kind of strong emotion, whether negative or positive? And swearing is also interesting for what it can tell us about culture. People swear about what they care about, so a history of swearing is also a history of what has mattered most to people through the centuries—the divine, the terrifying, and the taboo.

Melissa Mohr

Melissa Mohr is the author of Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing.  She has also written for the Guardian, the Sunday Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, and salon.com, and is working on a new book, about friendship.  She has a Ph.D. in English Literature from Stanford University.