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Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths, and Profanity in English Paperback – September 1, 1998
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"Excellent, non-prescriptive history." Literary Review
"Erudite and splendidly researched book ... quite fascinating." Daily Telegraph
"A provocative and stimulating book." Glasgow Herald
"Professor Hughes shows real skill in handling the social history aspect of the book, blending theme and chronology into a digestive mixture." Punch--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From the Back Cover
From the earliest times swearing has existed in many variegated forms, from the deadliest curse to the most trivial expletives of annoyance. Hedged about with all manner of complex pressures, personal, societal, religious, sexual and other forms of taboo, it remains a phenomenon only imperfectly understood. Geoffrey Hughes traces these two contrasting strands through our linguistic history. His discussion starts with the use of language as magic in 'primitive' society, the binding oath of heroic commitment in Anglo-Saxon warrior society and the emergence of blasphemy in the medieval age of faith. With the Renaissance came a shift from a religious to a secular idiom of swearing, a period combining rich exuberance in language with severe restraint. This oscillation between institutional censorship and individual defiance continues to modern times. Professor Hughes includes in this broad-ranging survey such topics as xenophobia and the racist basis of abuse, graffiti, the sexual and sexist patterns of swearing, the multifarious forms of euphemism and the curious varieties of verbal duelling known as 'flyting' and 'sounding'. His book is a tireless exploration of a little discussed but irrepressible part of our linguistic heritage. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.