Swearing in Quebec II.

We’ve discussed the topic before, but Chi Luu (“a computational linguist and NLP researcher who tinkers with tiny models and machines to uncover curious mysteries in human language”) has a good piece at JSTOR Daily that takes a historical approach; after describing the sacres (and providing a couple of delightful video clips to illustrate them, including Laurent Paquin’s “Chant sacré”: “Ostie d’câlisse de sacrament/Ciboire de saint Ostie…”) goes on to ask:

So how did this come to be? How do seemingly harmless words in languages around the world start to develop a second life as taboo words which connote emotional extremes and are then considered offensive or harmful? How do good words go bad?

She has lots of interesting links, and concludes:

The more these taboo words are used in novel ways, the more diluted their efficacy and power. Across the years, it is the tenuous balance of taboo speech use or prohibition that can turn formerly innocuous words into terms that are mad, bad and dangerous to know.


  1. Once, when I was having a group discussion with some of my (20-something) peers, I noticed that goddamn (adj.) actually sounded stronger to me than fucking – because of the overuse of the latter. I have no moral objection to swearing, but it does bug me when it approaches the level of a verbal tic.

  2. John Cowan says

    The use of disease names in Dutch swearing is an even clearer example of this.

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