ISBN : 9780190491680
Almost everyone swears, or worries about not swearing, from the two year-old who has just discovered the power of potty mouth to the grandma who wonders why every other word she hears is obscene. Whether they express anger or exhilaration, are meant to insult or to commend, swear words perform a crucial role in language. But swearing is also a uniquely well-suited lens through which to look at history, offering a fascinating record of what people care about on the deepest levels of a culture--what's divine, what's terrifying, and what's taboo.
Holy Sh*t tells the story of two kinds of swearing--obscenities and oaths--from ancient Rome and the Bible to today. With humor and insight, Melissa Mohr takes readers on a journey to discover how "swearing" has come to include both testifying with your hand on the Bible and calling someone a *#$&!* when they cut you off on the highway. She explores obscenities in ancient Rome--which were remarkably similar to our own--and unearths the history of religious oaths in the Middle Ages, when swearing (or not swearing) an oath was often a matter of life and death. Holy Sh*t also explains the advancement of civility and corresponding censorship of language in the 18th century, considers the rise of racial slurs after World War II, examines the physiological effects of swearing (increased heart rate and greater pain tolerance), and answers a question that preoccupies the FCC, the US Senate, and anyone who has recently overheard little kids at a playground: are we swearing more now than people did in the past?
A gem of lexicography and cultural history, Holy Sh*t is a serious exploration of obscenity--and it also just might expand your repertoire of words to choose from the next time you shut your finger in the car door.
Chapter 1: Romana Simplicitate Loqui: To Speak with Roman Plainness
Chapter 2: On Earth as It Is in Heaven
Chapter 3: Tearing God to Pieces: The Middle Ages
Chapter 4: The Rise of Obscenity: The Renaissance
Chapter 5: How Trousers Became Unmentionable and Legs Disappeared Altogether: The 18th and 19th Centuries
Chapter 6: The Law and Science of Swearing: The Twentieth Century
"Throughout time, as words have left FCC-monitor territory and entered everyday conversation, we've kept coming up with new ways to express our greatest, angriest, most enthusiastic exclamations. And that process is pretty fucking cool." --Atlantic Monthly
"Intelligent and enjoyable... Ms. Mohr leads us on an often ear-boggling tour of verbal depravity, through the medieval and early-modern periods (via a fascinating analysis of scatological phrasing in early Bible translations) to the Victorian era and then our own time."--Wall Street Journal
"...one of the most absorbing and entertaining books on language I have encountered in a long time" -- Washington Post
"As someone who relies on various forms of obscenity, vulgarity and profanity for roughly 75% of my written and verbal communication, I found this book fascinating and illuminating. Melissa Mohr's scholarship is rigorous, her prose trenchant and delightful; right from page one, Holy Sh*t is a motherf*cker. We are what we swear by and about, and this slim volume represents a significant and deeply enjoyable contribution to our understanding of ourselves." - Adam Mansbach, #1 New York Times bestselling author of GO THE F*CK TO SLEEP
"In Holy Sh*t, Melissa Mohr makes curses, oaths, profanities, and swear words the occasion for an entertaining and far-ranging historical journey, from the disputes over religious oaths in the Tudor period to the labored delicacies of the Victorians to our modern debates about expletives in the media and our new-found reticence about racial and religious slurs. One-stop shopping for anyone interested in the nether reaches of the English vocabulary." -Geoff Nunberg, University of California at Berkeley, Language Commentator on NPR's Fresh Air
"Profanity-the language that offends us-tells a great deal about who we are and how we got that way. Melissa Mohr's Holy Sh*t is a fascinating investigation, both provocative and immensely informative. I found it compulsively readable." -Stephen Orgel, author of Imagining Shakespeare
"Digressions on the art of equivocation and the etymology of some of the most infamous curses are highlights of the book, but those looking for a Devil's Dictionary of bad language should look elsewhere-this is some serious sh*t." --Publishers Weekly
"Informed, enlightening and often delightfully surprising."--Kirkus Reviews