On the Origin of Cuss Words

Language Warning


Cuss words are fun. But misconceptions abound about where they come from. Ever heard the “ship high in transit,” “pluck you,” or “fornication under consent of the King” myths? Total bogus. That being said, here’s a handy guide to when naughty words were first uttered (or at least written).

  • Fuck – a tough one to track down, but c. 1500. Side-note, there was a guy named John Le Fucker in 1278, but that’s probably just a (hilarious) coincidence. First appearance with this spelling was 1535, in the following passage: “Bischops … may fuck thair fill and be vnmaryit” (Bishops may fuck their fill and be unmarried), which continues to be hilarious.” 
    • Fucker – 1590 (Bonus Round! Duck-fucker – 1796)
    • Motherfucker – 1928 in concept, 1956 in all its modern glory
  • Shit – oddly enough sharing an origin with “science” and “conscience” because it comes from a word for “to split off from.” This one goes back to Proto-Indo-European, English’s great-grandaddy, so I don’t have a specific year for you.
    • Bullshit – 1915
    • Chickenshit – 1947
    • Horseshit – 1935
    • Jack-shit – 1968
    • Batshit – 1967
    • Pigshit – 2017? Let’s make it a thing.
  • Damn – meaning “to condemn or convict” comes from the late 1200s. But the source can be traced back to a Proto-Indo-European prefix “dap-” which goes back well beyond ancient Rome.
    • Goddamn – late 1300s
    • Dang – 1781
  • Hell – Another one with a Proto-Indo-European ancient root going back millennia, this one coming from an ancient word meaning “to conceal.” The word is actually a Germanic pagan one, adapted by Christians while Christianity was spreading.
  • Bitch – as a curse instead of just a description of female dogs, it comes from around 1400.
    • Sonofabitch – literally comes from 1707, but the concept has been around since Old Norse, who had “bikkju-sonr,” or “bitch’s son.” So it’s been a while.

Image By David Lee from Redmond, WA, USA (Please stop yelling, I’m trying to think) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

All word origins sourced from http://www.etymonline.com/