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on November 2, 2002
This is an excellent history of the rich lexicon of the true English language. Shows how various traditions such as verbal baiting (flyting), 'blasphemies', and 'profanities' developed in in the tapestry of English ... and interesting in that it describes only a few hundred years ago or less the "four letter words" were just everyday language whereas blasphemy was regarded as beyond the pale. Interesting topsy-turvy compared to today's use!
Learn where common or archiac expressions developed etc. Marvel at the rich linguistic traditions of working class English and the broad variation that Australian swearing can give to a single word.
Although some reviews have said this is "academic" in tone (meaning well researched and footnoted I suppose) and it is indeed rigorous, it is a VERY LIVELY read which any moderately literate person can get excellent enjoyment from.
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on March 30, 2010
Swearing, A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English, Geoffrey Hughes, © Geoffrey Hughes, 1991, 1998; Penguin Books, London

It would appear that swearing and/or the use of oaths is a universal human constant regardless of language, culture, social mores, etc. I really have to wonder if the first recognizable word to come out of the mouths of our most ancient ancestors wasn't an oath or a swear word prompted by the impact of that stone axe on a bare toe or foot. What Geoffrey Hughes has given us here is a history of this human activity in the English language, from its Anglo-Saxon roots to the mid to late 20th Century.

A professor of linguistics and a scholar of language, especially as people actually use it, Geoffrey Hughes presents a solid and readable survey history of the uses and preferences for oaths and swear words in the English language in some 250 pages divided into 11 chapters. The author introduces us to his topic with a discussion of curses, expletives, oaths, swearing, taboos, and how they overlap or differ from each other in our speech over time. He then proceeds in succeeding chapters to discuss the Germanic inheritance of English swearing and oath-ing, its evolution in Middle English, the later influence of French and other languages, and the impact of our changing attitudes about religion, the church and other authorities, how we talk about foreigners and the "other" in our lives, how swearing relates to sex, and how it reflects the changes in the world at large. At several points, Mr. Hughes embellishes his discussion with lists of different swear words and their often changing meanings or usage by historical period. This I found particularly useful as a living historian/reenactor as it provided some idea of the changing vocabulary over time and geography.

I like very much that there are endnotes at the end of each chapter rather than at the end of the book. Endnotes aren't quite footnotes but are much handier than having all of the notes buried at the end of several hundred pages. There is also a five and a half page bibliography that provides grist for the mill of anyone interested in further reading or research on a particular period. This is a good selection for either the interested general reader or the academic.
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on November 25, 2014
Great illustrations and history lessons.
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on September 21, 2010
Not was I was looking for. The author seems to me to be in love with his own writing which is often arcane and old-fashioned. Very wordy, and not an easy read. I gave up after the first two chapters.
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on February 20, 2010
I think that this book is very usefull but I think it is limitated.
It is a review of the history of swearing. It can be funny in some ways but sometimes it is hard to read because it is written as a text book.
We can find many pictures a tables resuming the info that are very interesting.
In general it is a good book.
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on August 30, 2000
If you are looking for a studious history of foul language, this book might be for you. Everything in author Hughes' book is well documented and footnoted. In my research for my own book, CUSS CONTROL (Three Rivers Press, April 2000), I purchased the 1993 edition of this book. It contained some valuable information, but I found it difficult to read. The author was, and perhaps still is, a professor in South Africa, and his writing style is intellectual and formal. His intention and his audience are different from mine, so a comparison is not really fair. However, unless you are looking for a comprehensive and esoteric study of the use of profanity through the ages, I suggest you page through the book before making a purchase.
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on May 25, 1999
When i read the book i couldn't put the book down, it was so good i recomend it to anyone.
11 comment3 of 30 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse