From Time Magazine:
Four-letter words have been around since the days of our forebears—and their forebears, too. In Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, a book out this month from Oxford University Press, medieval literature expert Melissa Mohr traces humans’ use of naughty language back to Roman times. NewsFeed asked Mohr what surprising tidbits readers might stumble upon amidst the expletives. Here are nine talking points from her opus for your next (presumably, pretty edgy) cocktail hour.
1. The average person swears quite a bit.
About 0.7% of the words a person uses in the course of a day are swear words, which may not sound significant except that as Mohr notes, we use first-person plural pronouns — words like we, our and ourselves — at about the same rate. The typical range, Mohr says, goes from zero to about 3%. What would it be like to have a conversation with a three-percenter? “That would be like Eddie Murphy,” Mohr says. Presumably from Eddie Murphy Raw, not from Shrek Forever After.
2. Kids often learn a four-letter word before they learn the alphabet.
Mohr’s work incorporates research by Timothy Jay, a psychology professor at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, who uncovered the 0.7% statistic above and has also charted a rise in the use of swear words by children — even toddlers. By the age of two, Mohr says, most children know at least one swear word; it really “kicks off” around the ages of three or four.
3. Some of today’s most popular swear words have been around for more than a thousand years.
“S— is an extremely old word that’s found in Anglo-Saxon texts,” Mohr says. What English-speakers now call asses and farts can also be traced back to the Anglo-Saxons, she adds, though in those times the terms wouldn’t have been considered as impolite as they are today.
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