Two entertaining books on language have been added to the library recently, one about swearing and the other about slang. Melissa Mohr’s Holy Sh*t looks at the history of swearing – both obscenities and oaths, from the ‘big ten’ worst Latin words in Ancient Rome up to the ‘big six’ worst English words today, lists that fluctuate depending on culture and society. In between we visit the Bible, look at the Middle Ages when English was the minority language in England next to Latin and Norman French, discuss ‘equivocation’ during the Renaissance, and the euphemisms of the 18th and 19th centuries, and end up in the modern world wondering as taboos change what the swear words of the future will be, and whether we are swearing more now than we did in the past.
In The life of slang by Julie Coleman we learn just what slang is, how it developed throughout the English speaking world, and how it continues to flourish. She explains that “Slang is an attitude…expressed in words. Any word habitually used with one of these slangy attitudes retains the association, but the association wears off when the word is used by people who don’t share or are only pretending to share the attitude. When a group of people are stereotyped by their attitude, outsiders will find signs of it even where it isn’t being expressed.” (p.306).
Coleman also discusses swear words in the context of slang, which aren’t necessarily the same things.
Both these books will probably teach you several new words, whether you can use them in polite company is another matter.
Mohr, Melissa (2013) Holy sh*t. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Classmark: PE3724.S85.M6 (ASSL)
Coleman, Julie (2012) The life of slang. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Classmark: PE3711.C6 (ASSL)