History of Swear Words (2021) s01e01 Episode Script


"Fuck are you lookin' at?"
"I've had it
with these motherfuckin' snakes
on this motherfuckin' plane."
"Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.
You're cool. Fuck you. I'm out."
"You want me to go trash your lights?
You want me to fuckin' trash 'em?
Then why are you trashing my scene?"
"You are one ugly motherfucker."
"You have insulted me
for the last fucking time."
"Fuck you! That's my name."
"Don't waste my motherfuckin' time."
"Fuck it. We'll do it live."
An actor's greatest tool
is their imagination.
But swearing…
is definitely up there.
With swear words,
we can cut, soothe, delight,
frighten, insult, and seduce.
Of all the swear words
in the English language,
none is as malleable as "fuck."
It's capable of expressing
the full range of human emotion.
The pain, the wonder,
the unlawful carnal knowledge,
in a single syllable.
[inhales deeply]
[softly] Fuuuuuck ♪
Or we can say it like this…
[yells] Fuuuuuck!
[cat meows]
They're the most popular
and alluring taboos we have.
But the secrets to their strange power
have been shrouded in mystery.
Until now.
Join me on a journey through the history,
evolution and cultural impact
of swear words.
And let's get fucked.
"Fuck" is the all-time classic.
Number one with a bullet.
"Fuck" is another word
that helps you release frustration.
It's it's a word that conveys emotion.
If I had only one swear word
to take with me to a desert island,
it would probably be "fuck."
My name is Kory Stamper.
I am a lexicographer and an author.
I used to write
dictionary definitions at Merriam-Webster,
and, among other things,
my job there was to work on profanities.
English, motherfucker. Do you speak it?
I love the word "fuck" so much.
It's just so versatile.
You can put it anywhere in a sentence,
and give it a little bit of zhuzh.
My name is Ben Bergen
and I'm a cognitive scientist.
I do research on language.
You can use "fuck" in absolutely any way.
I'll take you all to fuckin' hell.
We say "fuck" all the time.
"What the fuck?"
"You little fucker."
It could be a good thing.
"Cheeky little fuck!"
It can be used in compound nouns
like "fuckhead" and "fuckwit."
When something's really impressive,
you go "Fuck!"
If you use it one way,
you can offend people.
"Fuck you, Jack!"
Use it another way, you can make friends
- and influence people.
- "Fuck, yes!"
My name is Melissa Mohr
I have a PhD from Stanford University,
and I write about swearing.
If you hear someone say "fuck,"
that word has has a lot of power.
It can work with when you're shocked.
It can work with when you're surprised.
"Shut the fuck up!"
"Fuck" is just
the most acceptable curse word,
but it still is the worst one of all.
[bell dings]
But for all its myriad uses,
"fuck" is ultimately about fuck-ing.
So, where did the word itself come from?
[Ben] With "fuck,"
it has a really long history
of not meaning something related to sex.
Thousands of years.
And, starting right around
the beginning of the 14th century,
it gained this new meaning related to sex,
and probably preserved it
without ever being a banned term
for about 400 years.
So, there's an acronymic etymology
that people think
the word "fuck" came from a phrase,
"Fornication Under Consent of the King."
- The idea is…
- [neighing]
…that when people
in the middle ages got married,
they had to go to the king,
they had to ask for permission
to have sex.
- [woman] Oh, don't stop!
- [crashing]
Oh, I'm almost thither! [gasps]
- [horses neigh]
- Halt this carriage!
I'm almost thither!
- Almost!
- [fanfare]
Cease this unsanctioned erogeny at once!
If you didn't have papers
from the king, you were breaking the law.
But, my lord, you've given your consent.
[dog barking]
[king] Ah! Very well, then.
Let it be known
that this household has been given
my royal, kingly consent
to fuuuuuck!
Such a great story for such a great word.
It is total horseshit.
It's not real. Sadly.
Because we like colorful words
to have colorful origins.
I think "fuck" is just made up.
I feel like this one guy
one day just went, "Fuck."
And the other guy was like, "Oh, I kinda…
That's exactly how I feel, actually."
The best that etymologists can tell,
"fuck" probably comes
from a medieval Dutch verb,
which means "to blow,"
"to hit," "to strike."
What? "Fuck" means "to hit"?
You can fuck someone up
by hitting them really hard.
it still hasn't lost its original meaning.
So, if I got hit in the face,
I would get fucked in the face?
Talking to them's an uphill struggle,
innit, Dad?
Fuck off!
[Melissa] "Fuck" doesn't appear
very often in language
before the 1500s.
But there are some uses of the word,
and they occur in people's names.
So, there's a man called John Lefucker.
Who was a known gigolo in the area.
[Melissa] There's somebody Fuckbutter.
Incredibly well endowed.
[Melissa] Somebody Roger Fuckebythenavele.
What? Are you crazy?
It could refer to the fact that he is, um…
an inelegant copulator.
But it could also mean
that he got hit in the stomach.
Or that he punches people in the stomach.
We just With names,
you don't really know,
because they tend to be metaphorical, or
You know, nicknames
aren't necessarily explainable
if you're outside of that in-group.
A lot of people's last names
in English come from their profession,
or some characteristic they're known by.
So you've got a Taylor.
He would have sewn clothes.
A Miller would have ground grain,
you know?
So, you've got In the 13th century,
you've got John Lefucker.
What did he do? He
You know, was he the original fuckboy?
[Nicolas] How many ways can we use "fuck"?
There's so many different ways
to talk about "fuck."
You have the Fuck Family Tree,
where Fuck meets Motherfuck,
and those two fuck
and they have a Fuccboi.
He never gets married
because he's always fuckin' around,
but he had a Fuckwad and a Fuck Nut
with this absolute fuck fiend,
Fuckin' Brenda.
They all fucked.
But the motherfucker's brother,
Uncle Fucker, was a real sick fuck.
But he put them in the will,
so the little fuckers run around
with a fuck ton of money.
Then, there's the other
fuckin' side of the family.
They're all fuckin' dicks anyway.
"Fuck" means "sex," for sure.
And then you can move outward
and say, well, "fuck" also refers
to really mess something up,
or "fuck" meaning "to screw someone over."
These are all metaphorical uses.
And and the fact that it's so taboo,
and has been taboo for a while,
you know, it's kinda like Silly Putty
you can stretch it
into just about any meaning you need to.
[Nicolas] Where does "fuck"
live in your brain?
When you automatically,
spontaneously swear,
it's an evolutionary old reflex.
Apparently, swear words live in,
like, a different part of your brain.
They live in, like,
the mom's basement of your brain.
And I'm goin'
to that part of my brain a lot.
There's a deeper, more emotional,
evolutionarily old place
that profanity comes from.
Deep in the middle of the brain,
a part of the brain
we share with other primates,
with other mammals, with lizards.
That's the part that leads you
to swear when you stub a toe,
or when your favorite football team
scores a touchdown.
If something is tragic,
my reaction will involve the word "fuck."
When you swear, you produce adrenaline.
It's part of the same
fight-or-flight reaction people have
when they experience fear or anger.
It can cause
the listener's heart rate to increase,
make your palms sweat.
You fuckin' do that again
and I will shoot you myself.
That adrenaline
and the blood flow to the extremities
makes it easier to tolerate pain there.
It's also the same reason
why swearing makes you stronger.
For example,
five percent stronger in grip strength
when you're swearing,
compared to when you're not.
[Nicolas] "Fuck!"
It's so primal, so universal,
that some of history's most famous people
channeled its power
for their last words.
Like beloved children's author Roald Dahl.
"It's just that
I will miss you all so much."
- [squirt]
- "Ow, fuck!"
- [church bell tolls]
- Or notorious people lover W. C. Fields.
"God damn the whole fuckin' world
and everyone in it but you, Carlotta."
[church bell tolls]
And even Venezuelan freedom fighter,
Antonio José de Sucre.
- [gunshot]
- "Fuck, a bullet wound."
[horse neighs]
[church bell tolls]
Every single person who's fallen
off a cliff, their last word was "fuck."
Everyone who's been eaten by a shark,
they also said "fuck."
I'm not surprised.
I feel like that's probably
a lot of people's last words.
I'm Elvis Mitchel,
and I host a show called
The Treatment on KCRW.
Thanks to the Supreme Court
and the ruling of 1971,
"fuck" is part of our protected speech,
we have the right to say it.
We have what they would call
"the God-given right."
Using the word "fuck"
becomes a way to be heard.
Certainly In the '60s,
Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland,
they had a touring troupe, FTA.
Fuck The Army.
And Fuck The Draft.
You were using that word to say,
"I was taking a stand."
"Fuck" is also something a person says
when they are deeply hurt
or disappointed by something.
Fuck tha police
Comin' straight from the underground… ♪
When NWA said "Fuck Tha Police,"
it wasn't said
out of a sense of pure malice.
It was said
with a deep sense of disappointment.
Fuck tha police ♪
Fuck, fuck, fuck tha police ♪
- Fuck, fuck, fuck… ♪
- That's what "Fuck Tha Police" did.
That's what those words did.
The power of NWA is that they were
some of the earliest
successful gangsta rappers,
and what gangsta rap really meant
in that time…
was people sayin' things on songs
that people were
not used to hearing in public.
Going to a Public Enemy show
or NWA in the '80s,
and just watching the way Eazy-E
It became lyrical,
the way he used the word "fuck."
…fucked up incident? ♪
And to watch the way Cube would react,
and basically sort of
They'd do this call and response.
That to me was art.
That was raising profanity
to the level of art.
And making that part of art,
becomes part of a conversation
we have every day, forever after.
And, of course, the police
did not like to hear this sentiment.
[woman] The group is NWA.
The group's lyrics are
anti-police and anti-authority.
I'm personally very offended.
Fuck tha police ♪
[Open Mike] They didn't invent
the term "fuck the police."
But they said it out loud.
And it was analogous
that that same year, 1989,
Public Enemy says "Fight The Power."
So you got "Fight The Power" in New York,
and you got "Fuck Tha Police" in LA.
It's the same sentiment.
It's just people
finally saying these things on record,
because we have this new form
of expression called rap music
where it's okay to say things
that you've been saying in secret.
[Zainab] When you hear
people say "Fuck the police,"
it's like, "I have no other options.
And that's how I got here.
Because there's no other option."
"Fuck" is a good protest word,
because it is the swear word
that carries the most emotion.
[Elvis] People need to be offended,
to be shaken out of their complacency,
out of their misguided belief system.
Fuck tha police ♪
According to numerous studies,
"fuck" is not only the most used
swear word in the English language,
it's also the most censored.
It's the granddaddy of cussing,
and we can find it all around us.
It's one of the oldest,
most vulgar words we have,
limitless in its ability
to shock and offend.
So, why do we see it now on cross-stitch
and scented candles?
And if we see it everywhere,
why is it still censored
on TV and in movies?
Often there will be censorship.
Uh, generally,
it's not government censorship,
although it can be,
like in the case of the Soviet Union.
Often, it's people self-censoring,
like, just deciding that this is not…
these words
have no place in public discourse.
they're harmful to morality,
they're harmful to children,
and so, we will not say these things.
And of course, everybody does.
But then they're shocked.
People just laugh when you say "fuck."
It's just… everything's fuckin' funnier
when you say "fuck."
I feel like swear words are
definitely more powerful in America.
Not that powerful in Britain.
You can say, "Morning, you fucking cunt"
to someone and they'll be fine.
Say that to someone in America,
you'll get shot,
because guns are legal here.
When you're being offended,
you're basically saying to the world,
"I have better morals than this person."
"This person did this,
but I'm better than them."
They're not going home and going,
"I couldn't believe
the words I had to hear…"
And if they are, they can fuck off.
Like, what's the point?
They shouldn't be out
in the general public and all that stuff.
I think the word "fuck"
has a baseline magic
that can never be removed.
If somebody looks at you
and says, "Fuck you,"
you're gonna feel that.
Just because it's more common,
doesn't mean it's lost any power.
Those fucking killjoys at the
Motion Picture Association of America
still consider the word bad enough
to slap an R rating
on just about any movie
that uses it more than twice.
Until the 1960s,
you got basically you were graded
by the Hays Code.
And there were things
you just couldn't say.
Then Jack Valenti came along
and the MPAA said,
"Well, we're losing people.
There are movies coming from Europe
where people talk about sex,
and they apparently have sex
in these movies.
We can't act like that
doesn't happen anymore."
So, you had to acknowledge
that the real world existed.
And the ratings offered ways
to gently introduce the concept
of the real world to movies.
With these rating, a G-rated movie
will have a lot of sunlight,
and that's about it.
That'll do, pig.
That'll do.
You get to PG
and there are levels of violence,
maybe a couple of swear words.
Son of a bitch.
For PG-13, you can use the word "fuck"
and get away with it once.
From the entire Channel 4 News team,
I'm Veronica Corningstone.
And I'm Ron Burgundy.
Go fuck yourself, San Diego.
It can't be about fucking.
And then you get to R,
and you have movies
where characters talk like real people.
Are you fucking kidding me?
[silence falls]
Profanity was
the life-preserver for movies.
People went to the movies again.
I think the first time I heard a curse
was in the movies.
I think my parents took us
to see Coming to America.
Once they got to, like, Queens,
he was like, "We've arrived,"
or something.
And somebody was like, "Fuck you!"
And he was like, "Yes, yes! Fuck you too!"
[Sarah Silverman] I was in,
um… School of Rock,
and I remember, in between scenes,
the director was saying, uh…
"It's PG-13, so we can say 'shit'
and we can say one 'fuck.'"
I pitched that, um,
you don't use "fuck" at all,
and then just the last, like,
after the credits,
every you know,
the whole cast just goes, "Fuck!"
They didn't do that.
Swearing in movies is big business.
Just look at the filmography
of one randomly generated actor.
You can see that
of the big six swear words,
"fuck" and its derivatives
are by far the most frequent,
making up 71% of the curses uttered
in the films of this random actor.
So who do you think is
the sweariest actor of all time?
Per movies, per swear words,
per time on screen,
I think Eddie Murphy is your number one.
No. Samuel L. It has to be Samuel L.
He's swearin' He don't get the role
unless he can swear in it.
When you're talking about the word "fuck,"
it's hard not to really fall back
on the connoisseur of fuck,
Samuel L. Jackson.
What the fuck am I doin' in the back?
You're the motherfucker
should be on brain detail.
I remember I went to see Snakes on a Plane
only to see Samuel L. Jackson say,
"I'm tired of these motherfuckin' snakes
on this motherfuckin' plane."
It was it was magical.
The sweariest actor
isn't Samuel L. Jackson,
Al Pacino,
or my personal favorite, Yosemite Sam,
but… Jonah Hill.
And while Jonah Hill is known
for his R-rated comedies,
it was The Wolf of Wall Street
that made him the king of the curse words,
swearing a confounding 107 times
in that movie alone.
- Jonah Hill?
- Jonah Hill?
There's no Who's counting these?
This is That's not true!
That's not true!
How did Jonah Hill say it so many times?
It wasn't until 2004
that "fuck" first arrived
uncensored on the small screen
in an airing of
South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut
onComedy Central.
But it was way back in 1970,
when MASH dropped the first F-bomb
in a major motion picture.
Movies can still move the needle
when it comes to characters…
basically, in effect,
inventing catchphrases.
We see this happen with, uh…
with newly-invented swear words.
So MILF is the great example,
because we know exactly the thing
that spread it throughout the world,
which was this movie,
which was American Pie in 1999.
[John Cho] M-I-L-F.
- A Mom I'd Like to Fuck.
- [laughing] Yeah, dude!
If the best movies can do something
that make us want to be like them,
and we hear something and,
"Wow, that's perfect. That…
MILF? I'm usin' that.
I'm gonna find a way to use that."
And you hear that in American Pie,
and then, ten years later,
on 30 Rock, there's a fake reality show
called MILF Island.
And it's everywhere. I mean, so…
movies still can… act as these catalysts
for keeping the language alive
in ways that are exciting.
I love "fuck."
It's like the Tom Hanks of curse words.
It can do anything, can be in anything,
and we never get sick of it.
We need to be able to say swear words.
We need to be able to say "fuck."
It's a gateway for creativity,
it's a form of protest, and…
it's good for us.
- [bell dings]
- I think there's a need now
for swearing and profanity
more than any other time.
We need the relief, the release.
That's really what profanity gives us.
"Oh, shit!"
Just a chance
to get that kind of stuff out.
Bitch. Fuck. Shit. Damn. Pussy. Dick.
I like that there are words you can't say
and that you can only say
on special occasions.
Like Christmas.
Swearing is important if you need it
to get out your frustration
or your despair.
What the fuck?
It's not important when
you're just swearing for swearing's sake.
Don't swear for swearing's sake.
We're better than that.
Swear because you mean it.
I'm Nicolas Cage.
Have a great fuckin' night.
[man] G-dshh!
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