The evolution of written profanity began roughly in the sixteenth century, and continues to change with each generation that it sees. Profanity is recognized in many Shakespearean works, and has continually evolved into the profane language used today.
Some cuss words have somehow maintained their original meanings throughout hundreds of years, while many others have completely changed meaning or simply fallen out of use. William Shakespeare, though it is not widely taught, was not a very clean writer. In fact, he was somewhat of a potty mouth.
His works encompassed a lot of things that some people wish he had not. “That includes a fair helping of sex, violence, crime, horror, politics, religion, anti-authoritarianism, anti-semitism, racism, xenophobia, sexism, jealousy, profanity, satire, and controversy of all kinds” (Macrone 6). In his time, religious and moral curses were more offensive than biological curses.
Most all original (before being censored) Shakespearean works contain very offensive profanity, mostly religious, which is probably one of many reasons that his works were and are so popular. “Shakespeare pushed a lot of buttons in his day- which is one reason he was so phenomenally popular. Despite what they tell you, people like having their buttons pushed” (Macrone 6). Because his works contained so many of these profane words or phrases, they were censored to protect the innocent minds of the teenagers who are required to read them, and also because they were blasphemous and offensive. Almost all of the profanity was removed, and that that was not had just reason for being there. Some of the Bard’s censored oaths are; “God’s blessing on your beard”Love’s Labors Lost, II.
i.203 This was a very rude curse because a man’s facial hair was a point of pride for him. and “to play with someone’s beard” was to insult him. “God’s body”1 Henry IV,II.i.26 Swearing by Christ’s body, (or any part thereof,) was offlimits in civil discourse. “God’s Bod(y)kins, man”Hamlet, II.
ii.529 The word bod(y)kin means “little body” or “dear body,” butadding the cute little suffix does not make this curse anymore acceptable. “By God’s blest mother!”2 Henry VI, II.i;3 Henry VI, III.ii;Henry VIII, V.i Swearing by the virgin was almost as rude as swearing byher son, especially when addressing a catholic cathedral as Gloucester did in 2 Henry VI, II.i Perhaps the two worst of these Shakespearean swears were “‘zounds” and “‘sblood.” “‘Zounds” had twenty-three occurrences.
Ten of them were in 1 Henry IV. The rest appear in Titus (once), Richard III (four times), Romeo and Juliet (twice), and Othello ( six times). Iago and Falstaff were the worst offenders. ‘Zounds has evolved into somewhat of a silly and meaningless word, but was originally horribly offensive. This oath, short for “God’s wounds,” was extremely offensive because references to the wounds or blood of Christ were thought especially outrageous, as they touched directly on the crucifixion. “‘Sblood” had twelve occurrences in all. There were eight times in 1 Henry IV (with Falstaff accounting for six), plus once in Henry V, twice in Hamlet, and once in Othello. ‘Sblood occurs less than ‘zounds, but is equally offensive and means basically the same thing.
Several other words came from Great Britain, but were not included in Shakespeare’s works. Today the expression “Gadzooks!” is not particularly offensive to most. Of course, most don’t know what it originally meant. Gadzooks was originally slang for “God’s hooks,” and was equally offensive to ‘zounds and ‘sblood as it also referred to the crucifixion. An interesting note is that there is a store called Gadzooks which everyone thinks of as a pop-culture vendor to America’s youth. Some (but not many) of Gadzooks’ shoppers would be very offended if they knew the true meaning of the store’s name.
Another word from this region is a Cockney expression, “Gorblimey,” which is a word used to swear to the truth, and is a shortened form of “God blind me.” Also, in England, words such as “bloody,” “blimey,” “blinkin’,” beginning with the letters “BL” are taken offense to because they, once again, refer to the blood of Christ and the crucifixion.The military has an interesting technique for swearing their brains out without