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Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing Kindle Edition

4.5 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Length: 322 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled

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Throughout time, as words have left FCC-monitor territory and entered everyday conversation, we've kept coming up with new ways to express our greatest, angriest, most enthusiastic exclamations. And that process is pretty fucking cool. (Atlantic Monthly)

Intelligent and enjoyable... Ms. Mohr leads us on an often ear-boggling tour of verbal depravity, through the medieval and early-modern periods (via a fascinating analysis of scatological phrasing in early Bible translations) to the Victorian era and then our own time. (Wall Street Journal)

...one of the most absorbing and entertaining books on language I have encountered in a long time (Washington Post)

As someone who relies on various forms of obscenity, vulgarity and profanity for roughly 75% of my written and verbal communication, I found this book fascinating and illuminating. Melissa Mohr's scholarship is rigorous, her prose trenchant and delightful; right from page one, Holy Sh*t is a motherf*cker. We are what we swear by and about, and this slim volume represents a significant and deeply enjoyable contribution to our understanding of ourselves." - Adam Mansbach, #1 New York Times bestselling author of GO THE F*CK TO SLEEP

<"[Mohr's] approach positively twinkles with pleasure and amusementEL This is a cracking f****** book, and innominables to anyone who says otherwise.> (Sam Leith, The Guardian)

In Holy Sh*t, Melissa Mohr makes curses, oaths, profanities, and swear words the occasion for an entertaining and far-ranging historical journey, from the disputes over religious oaths in the Tudor period to the labored delicacies of the Victorians to our modern debates about expletives in the media and our new-found reticence about racial and religious slurs. One-stop shopping for anyone interested in the nether reaches of the English vocabulary." -Geoff Nunberg, University of California at Berkeley, Language Commentator on NPR's Fresh Air

Profanity-the language that offends us-tells a great deal about who we are and how we got that way. Melissa Mohr's Holy Sh*t is a fascinating investigation, both provocative and immensely informative. I found it compulsively readable." -Stephen Orgel, author of Imagining Shakespeare

Digressions on the art of equivocation and the etymology of some of the most infamous curses are highlights of the book, but those looking for a Devil's Dictionary of bad language should look elsewhere-this is some serious sh*t. (Publishers Weekly)

Informed, enlightening and often delightfully surprising. (Kirkus Reviews)

About the Author

Melissa Mohr holds a Ph.D. in Renaissance Literature from Stanford. She won a Mrs. Giles Whiting Fellowship for her dissertation, Strong Language: Oaths, Obscenities, and Performative Language in Early Modern England.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 3842 KB
  • Print Length: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (1 April 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00BQBZ840
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #295,789 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars
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Format: Kindle Edition
I've long held the philosophy that swear words - like all words - are just words. By this `just a word' philosophy sh*t is as profane as cat. Yet, I don't say `cat' when I drop a cup or trap my finger in the drawer or stub my toe. So, can the `just a word' philosophy stick? This seemed like the perfect book to help me find out.

This is really an absolutely fascinating look at the history of swearing - the obscenities and the oaths - and I was incredibly impressed by the depth of research that has clearly been undertaken. Mohr looks at the differences between swearing (obscenely) and swearing an oath, how these arose and the history of certain words. Unsurprisingly, some words that we find offensive now were considered perfectly acceptable previously, yet some words that we use commonly would have caused an 18th century girl to blush.

My conclusion upon finishing Holy Sh*t was that my `just a word' philosophy kind of sticks. If it didn't, how could the insult of this generation be the tame slang of the next? What makes an obscenity obscene (to me) seems to be less about language and more about tone, expression and body language. It's also about knowing what will impact, however. In that respect, it has to be more than just a word. Mohr shows that swearing is very much an evolving aspect of language and behaviour, constantly shaped and revised by our culture and history.

If you love language, culture or history, this is an excellent read with some real surprises in store.

**I received a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review. I did not receive any additional compensation and all views are my own.**
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a difficult book to review without falling foul of Amazon's language checker and could also include the title, for Amazon is wise to the ways of asterisks. Perhaps there is a special dispensation for this book. The two words of the title signpost the two main groups of obscenity: the sacred and the profane or religion, sex and bodily functions. For modern times a third group can be added, racism.

I would recommend starting with the Index. Here are words not usually indexed amongst more worthy entries such as Cicero, Chaucer, Shakespeare and Saint Jerome, for this is a serious, intelligent book published by the Oxford University Press. It is also rather fun to read.

It is divided into six chapters: Ancient Rome, the Bible, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the 18th and 19th centuries and the 20th century and beyond.

This is a history of swearing in English, so the first chapter on Ancient Rome may seem out of place, but it gives a useful historical and cultural comparison, showing that Roman obscenities had many similarities but also many differences with the modern experience. The next chapter, on the Bible, introduces oaths and swearing as powerful religious vows. The obscenity was when these were taken in vain. This is carried into the Middle Ages when there was a great acceptance of sex and bodily functions in language but not of religious profanity.

With the coming of the Renaissance body parts became private and with the Reformation religion became personal. Religious oaths became less important and obscenity turned towards the sexual and scatological. This change continued through the 18th and 19th centuries, the great age of euphemism.

Towards the end of the 19th century people began to swear much as they do today.
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By Steve Benner TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 10 Nov. 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In "Holy S***: a Brief History of Swearing", American linguist, Melissa Mohr, presents a comprehensive overview of more than two thousand years' of "bad language". Beginning from a consideration of the sexual attitudes of ancient Rome and an examination of graffiti preserved in the ruins of Pompeii, her survey runs the entire gamut of those taboo words which over the centuries have come to be regarded as constituting rude, insulting, obscene, profane, vulgar, shocking and offensive language and which we now generally regard collectively as swear words. The author derives her book's title from the two roots of all bad language (in English) across the ages: the vocal utterances prohibited by religious doctrine (i.e. the "Holy") and those which refer to excretory or reproductive functioning (i.e. the "s***" - and how ironic that Amazon will not permit the use of this word OR its normally acceptable representative form in this review!) and charting the changes in attitudes and outlooks which have brought about a gradual shift in application of the term 'swearing' from initially meaning only the former kind of bad language to now encompass and mainly mean the latter. Along the way, the book also touches upon euphemisms (namely the avoidance of bad language through the use of evasive terms that merely hint at those things which cannot be mentioned directly) and the half-way house of orthophemisms (polite forms of actually making specific mention to the unmentionable) noting the tendency of the latter to become, through over-familiarity or with the passage of time, every bit as bad as the word for which such forms substitute.Read more ›
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