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 listeners 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.
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Entertaining and Enlightening
I've always been a fan of micro-histories that explore language or aspects of culture. Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing was a fascinating trip through what many today think is a recent phenomenon. Mohr sets the record straight, however, with a discussion of Ancient Rome and their use of language which shared much with the current way we use obscene words and how we swear. She then brings us through the history of the English language (with a few other European languages thrown in for comparison) and the British and American cultures.
Mohr does a great job of illustrating how our concepts of swearing are related to those larger societal concepts such as religion, privacy, class, and shame. Her examples come from law, literature, and other documents as well as more contemporary media such as film, television and radio. (Yes, George Carlin and Rhett Butler are in here...) She also puts to bed some myths about word origins including a famous one for the F word and one for Sh*t.
An entertaining and enlightening read - especially for someone like me who enjoys using a colorful range of expletives.
A great listen