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Holy shit : a brief history of swearing by…

Holy shit : a brief history of swearing (edition 2013)

by Melissa Mohr

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2311177,955 (3.88)20
"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 readers 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?"--Amazon.… (more)
Title:Holy shit : a brief history of swearing
Authors:Melissa Mohr
Info:Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2013.
Collections:Your library
Tags:Read in 2013, Non-Fiction

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Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr

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» See also 20 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
An engaging and educational read, covering not just linguistic history, but the broader social, political, religious and conceptual context that can be read into what people liked to swear about. Personally, I found all of that stuff far more interesting than simply when people started (or stopped) using certain terms in certain ways. The section on Ancient Roman sexuality and masculinity was fascinating, and the exploration of the rise of class as an important aspect of Victorian euphemising were areas I found particularly fascinating. But all in all, a fun book to read, with many laugh-out-loud moments and bits I wanted to quote... just not in front of my daughter. ( )
  cupiscent | Aug 3, 2019 |
Lots of fun. ( )
  Ubiquitine | Nov 24, 2018 |
This book is what its subtitle suggests: a brief history of swearing. That's hard to pull off, but Mohr does it quite well, with a healthy dose of witty snark throughout. ( )
  JBD1 | Feb 2, 2018 |
Did I like this book? Fuck yeah!

Seriously though, this is an excellent, concise history of what humanity has considered to be socially unacceptable to say or write since Biblical times. Incredibly easy to read, and written in an accessible style that does justice to the academic research behind it while never taking itself too seriously; I had a really hard time not reading out a great deal of it to MT (and at the same time finding certain passages impossible to read out loud).

Mohr breaks it down to 6 chapters: Roman, Biblical, Middle Ages, Renaissance, 18th/19th centuries and finally "Fuck 'Em All" - modern swearing and where we go from here. She uses the titular phrase as a loose premise: how swearing has moved from the Holy to the Shit and back again through time (because as she explains, all 'swearing' - until the more modern creation of racial slurs - was based either on religious oaths or bodily functions).

I expected the book to start off slow because I find ancient history tedious; full of unfamiliar names and dates I can't keep track of. That certainly wasn't a problem here. Chapter one - To Speak with Roman Plainness was quite possibly the most confronting chapter of the entire book for me. In the Introduction Mohr explains that researchers have found certain swear words cause a measurable physiological response in people; these words induce a greater level of skin conductivity than other emotive words like cancer or death. Chapter 1 had my skin snapping, because the Romans' favourite vulgarity was, - excuse the immaturity but I can't even type it, the c-word - and the author did not share my shyness. In fact this word was possibly used more often than fuck until the Renaissance; the index at the back of the book certainly has more entries for the it.

With skin still twitching, I dove into chapter 2, the Biblical. Wow. Wow because I thought I knew how colourful the Old Testament is but it turns out I didn't. And wow because there's some great theological information here behind oaths - why we take them and why they've always been considered sacrosanct. The broad stokes were nothing new, but the subtleties were eye opening.

The remaining chapters were less of a surprise, but still incredibly interesting. The sub section on Euphemisms in the Victorian age is hysterical. Quick trivia question: What were these words used to describe?:

Answer: Trousers. Victorians couldn't say trousers because they are what covered legs and legs were attached to... at this point any good Victorian woman would have already fallen into a swoon and marriages were likely being arranged to avoid scandal.

It's also the Victorian chapter where I found a word obsolete since 1886 that I am personally going to try to bring back: nackle-ass. Means poor, mean, paltry or inferior and I find it oddly appealing.

The final chapter looks at our modern day embracement of all things Holy and Shit and the rise of a new class of obscenity: the racial slur. She touches on legal rulings of what can and can't be said under the First Amendment and the British hate speech laws and the ambiguity inherent in trying to legislate speech. Mohr wraps up the book with another scientific study showing that swearing when you're injured really does help: researchers have found that subjects plunging their arms in ice water can hold that arm under up to 40 seconds longer if they swear as opposed to saying a neutral word. So next time you stub your toe, let 'er rip - you'll feel better!

It's obvious I loved this book and highly recommend it to anyone curious about our language and its history and has a healthy amount of tolerance for just how bawdy and colourful it can be. I guarantee you'll learn something. : ( )
  murderbydeath | Nov 15, 2016 |
Too dense. I wanted flow. Five pages in and it was putting me to sleep. ( )
  pnwbookgirl | Feb 7, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 11 (next | show all)
Mohr's scholarship seems to be sound and her approach positively twinkles with pleasure and amusement. She gives her chapters headings such as "Shit, That Bloody Bugger Turned Out To Be A Fucking Nackle-Ass Cocksucker!", and she's not above finding it funny that a paper on urinary incontinence was co-authored by Splatt and Weedon.

I'd like Mohr's account to have tipped a wink to Viz comic's monumental and still-growing Profanisaurus. Her argument might have been strengthened, too, by reminding us that Eric Cartman, in South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, saves the world from Satan and Saddam Hussein with the words: "Fuck, shit, cock, ass, titties, boner, bitch, muff, pussy, cunt, butthole, Barbra Streisand!"

But here I pick nits. This is a cracking fucking book, and innominables to anyone who says otherwise.
added by keristars | editThe Guardian, Sam Leith (Jun 6, 2013)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Melissa Mohrprimary authorall editionscalculated
Force, LisaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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