*Note- this entry uses “adult language,” but we’re pretty sure if you’ve seen Bootycandy, you’re ok with that…
Did you know that our best dirty words began as euphemisms? Seriously – if you look at the etymology of “cunt,” while the origin of the word is debated, it probably evolved from a word meaning “slit” or “sheath” or “to hide.” Same goes for good ol’ “fuck.” The precise root is uncertain, but suggestions range from Middle English fike meaning “to move restlessly” to Swedish fock meaning “penis” to German ficken “to itch or scratch.”
This is kind of counterintuitive, though, because the tendency is for dirty words to actually become LESS offensive over time… as well as less specific. The first instance of a written form of “fuck” is in the 15th century, but it wasn’t added to an English language dictionary until 1966. In fact, the word was outlawed in print in England (by the Obscene Publications Act, 1857) and the U.S. (by the Comstock Act, 1873). Another example – “shit” has been taboo since the 1600s, and was omitted by the Webster dictionary until 1970. “Bastard” used to be so bad that in Shakespeare’s time, it was usually written “b—–d.” Now, it’s considered tame.
Then there the story of comedian George Carlin’s “Seven Dirty Words:” a comedy bit about how the words “cocksucker, cunt, fuck, motherfucker, piss, shit, tits” were completely unusable in any social context. Carlin was actually arrested in Milwaukee for disturbing the peace during one performance of “Seven Dirty Words” and a radio broadcast of his monologue is in large part what prompted the Federal Communications Commission to issue indecency regulations regarding American broadcasting.
But in 2011, these words are fairly common – our own former President Bush has used a few on public occasions, most notably when he told UK Prime Minister Tony Blair that the United Nations needed to “get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this shit.” There is a play running in New York right now called The Motherfucker with the Hat. The movie The Boondock Saints uses “fuck” or a derivative 246 times, and our very own Mike Daisey peppers his shows with comic obscenities.
Perhaps the reason these words are so usable now is because of that lack of specificity I mentioned earlier. There is an entire book about the history of the word “motherfucker” called The Compleat Motherfucker, by Jim Dawson, and in the first chapter he explains that by now, “Motherfucker has come to mean almost anything, and nothing at all.” “Fuck” itself has become desexualized, a process started by soldiers in WWI and continued to the point that the eff word most commonly expresses anger or irritation. An article in Slate from 2007 claims “shit” as one of the “most versatile vulgarities in our language,” and a dictionary entry lists myriad phrases and meanings like “shit-faced” or “the shit hit the fan” or “to not give a shit.”
So MAYBE people make up euphemisms because they are trying to protect their children from dirty words or real life, or maybe the extant words for body parts just don’t mean anything anymore. Little do your parents or your youth leader know… that if the usual trajectory for crude words is followed, their euphemistic phrase will eventually become taboo – then banned – then vulgar – then eventually part of the English lexicon.
Does this mean “bootycandy” will go through this process over 500 years? Well, gatdammit, I sure hope so.
~ Maura Krause, Literary Assistant