Swearing is such a fascinating thing

I was writing today and hit a point where I needed my nice young Edwardian lady to exclaim with frustration.  It’s a point where a modern actress would likely say “Shit” and that’s so not correct. Oh, so not correct, for 1907.

So I wrote, When he left the room, Cora slapped her palm against the wall. “[exclamation]!”

And then after I finished the scene, I trotted off to the Oxford Historic Thesaurus, courtesy of my Multnomah County Library card, to look up oaths.  While I think she is likely to say “thunder!” or “hang it” these were some of my favorite other oaths from other periods.

  • By the mouse-foot!
  • Dash my wigs!
  • Gog of heaven!
  • Od’s lifelings!
  • Nouns!
  • So help me salmon!
  • By the pody cody!
  • By the great horn spoon!
  • Rabbit!
  • By the hokey fiddle!
  • Bread of wheat!
Did you know you can support Mary Robinette on Patreon?
Become a patron at Patreon!

15 thoughts on “Swearing is such a fascinating thing”

  1. I like “Thunder!” because if I were a nice young Edwardian lady, I would wish I could make thunderous noises when displeased. 😛

    I love “Nouns!” I wonder if it is any sort of euphemism for “Zounds”, since they rhyme so.

  2. My Grandfather used to say “Strawberries!” which I always thought highly unsatisfying in the same way I think “By the mouse foot!” would be.

  3. As you know, our household is fond of “nertz!”, but that is decidedly 1920’s. As for your list, I would wash Rebecca’s mouth out with soap if she ever said “nouns”.

      1. I do the same with historical thieves’ cant in mine, although it’s usually because the terms are so esoteric and task-specific, it can be hard to provide a decent definition via context. (And, yeah, some just sound silly, too. 🙂

  4. hmmm. . . . I wonder what the cultural reference would be for these oaths -n- the social level of use. Your young lady wouldn’t use it in public, but prob. overheard it somewhere in her life and picked it up.

    The word “punk” has changed so much over time.

    Oh fiddle dee dee!!!!

  5. “Go verb yourself!” I need to use that in a story somewhere.

    Swear words are so culturally specific that they invariably sound silly when read later. Cursing with, “God’s wounds!” was probably quite scatological a hundred and fifty years ago, but now it sets me to chortling.

  6. If she were a Western Edwardian young lady, she might well use ‘By the Great Horn Spoon,’ which by the way is a wonderful middle-grade book, written by Sid Fleischman. (A boy and his butler run away to the California gold fields to make their fortune.)

  7. I love “So help me salmon!” I heard somewhere, and can’t remember where, that modern swears were included..oh, I’ve just remembered. It was the TV series DEADWOOD. They just shoehorned modern swearwords in there, because it’s a serious, gritty program and the period swearwords just didn’t have any impact. At that time, the really bad tough guys would have gone with blasphemies like “Damn!” and that just doesn’t have impact with a modern audience. So they used a lot of anachronistic f-words and such.

    Personally, I feel like even the f-word is losing its impact. You even hear old people using it. The only word that really shocks people anymore is the n-word.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top