Swear Words, Taboo Words, Euphemisms

Edited by Craig Hadley of the Cracker Company

Although seldom found in print, swear words or taboo words were undoubtedly uttered just as profusely in the streets as they are now. In polite or mixed company, of course, euphemisms were used, especially by women and children. Many connotations of words used today remain curiously unchanged from the nineteenth century to the twentieth. In cases where no definition appears, the reader can use his or her imagination and extrapolate from current usage. Also note that some words that seem harmless today were considered highly vulgar not so long ago.

adventuress: euphemism for a prostitute or wild woman.
ass, ass-backwards (also bass-ackwards), asswipe: used throughout the century.
balls: shortened from ballocks, used throughout the century.
bastard: used throughout the century.
bitch: in the sense of a slutty, promiscuous Person (as a dog in heat) and actually applied to either sex early in the century. Its use to denote a crabby person, especially as applied to a female, came much later.
blame: euphemism for damn, used throughout the century and especially in New England.
1840s: I wasn't goin'to let Dean know; because he'd have thought him- self so blam'd cunning. Mrs. Claver's Western Clearings, P. 70
blazes: euphemism for hell or the devil.
bloody, British swear word, from mid-1700s on.
boat-licker: the equivalent of an ass-kisser.
breast' not used in mixed company. "Delicate" citizens went so far as to call a chicken breast a bosom.
bull: a taboo word due to its association with sexual potency. Polite folk spoke of a cow brute, a gentleman cow, a top cow, or a seed ox.
bull: in reference to lies or exaggerations, widely popularized by Civil War soldiers, from 1860s on.
cherry: vulgar term for a young woman, from at least mid-century on.
clap: for venereal disease, from the 1700s on.
cockchafer, cocksucker, cockteaser: all from at least mid-century on.
condom: taboo because contraceptives were illegal for most of the century.
crap: euphemism for shit, from at least mid-century.
c**t: highly vulgar, used throughout the century.
cussed: a somewhat acceptable swear word, meaning cursed, contemptible, mean, etc.
1840: Blast the cussed old imp! Knickerbocker Magazine, xvi, p.323
1841: Billy, Billy, you are a cussed fool! S. Lit. Messenger, vii
1869: I told Simpson I didn't want to go among a set of folks who were such cussed fools they couldn't speak English. Barnum, Struggles and Triumphs, p.250
1880: At another time she stopped them by planting herself directly on the track, out of pure cussedness. Harper's Magazine, April
1892: This is the cussedest business I was ever in. Harper's Magazine, January, p.287
dad: a euphemistic form of God, e.g., dad-blame it.
1834: I'll be dad shamed if it ain't all cowardice. Carmthen, Kentuckian I, p.216
1845: I'll tetch 'em together quicker'n lightnin,-if I don't, dad burn me! W.T. Thompson, Chronicles of Pineville, p.182
damn: a more powerful swear word in the nineteenth century than now. Acceptable euphemisms included blame, dang, darn, dern, ding, and others. Gol was sometimes used as an euphemistic prefix, e.g., the Golderned idiots.
devil: a more powerful expletive in the nineteenth century than now.
dickens: a euphemism for devil, e.g., What the dickens are you going on about now? Popularly used from the second half of the century.
drafted: a mild expletive, sometimes used as an euphemism for damned, throughout most of the century.
1840s: I was never so dratted mad; for the fellows were coming in in gangs, and beginnin' to call for me to come out and take the command. Major Jones's Courtship, p.22
fart: used throughout the century, e.g., I don't give a fart. Not worth a fart in a whirlwind.
french pox: euphemism for syphilis.
fuck: used throughout the century.
bell: euphemistically known as blazes, heck, Jesse, Sam Hill, thunder, and others.
bell-fired: euphemistically known as all-fired orjoe-fired.
horny: sexually aroused. Used throughout the century.
inexpressibles: euphemism for pants or trousers. See Pants. (See also Clothing and Fashion, p. 116.)
Jesse: hell. To give one Jesse is to give one hell or to beat the hell out of him.
1845: He turned on the woman and gave her Jesse. Cornelius Mathews, Writings, p.243
1847: You've slashed the hide offer that feller in the lower town, touched his raw, and rumpled his feathers, -that's the way to give him Jessy. Robb, Streaks of Squatter Life, p.31
Jew: to drive a hard bargain, from early in the century; used by Jew and non-Jew alike.
jo-fired: a variation of all-fired and hell-fired.
1834: It's jo-fired hard, though, I'll be hanged if it ain't. Vermont Free Fress, July 19
knock up: to impregnate, from as early as 1813.
leg: considered a naughty term; limb was used as a polite substitute.
lickfinger: the equivalent of a kiss-ass, used throughout.
lick-spittle: same as lickfinger.
limb: used as a polite substitute for leg, which was considered naughty.
Mary: an effeminate homosexual, from the 1890s.
Nancy, Nancy-boy: an effeminate man, from 1800 on.
necessary: euphemism for the outhouse or water closet; the bathroom. Used throughout the century.
Negro: considered taboo because it had been used as a euphemism for a slave during the eighteenth century.
oath: any swearing involving the name of God or Jesus; any swear word.
1872: 0, the cold-blooded oaths that rang from those young lips! James McCabe, Lights and Shadows of New York Life, p.480
pants, trousers: not spoken of aloud in polite circles, especially during the first half of the century. Acceptable alternatives: inexpressibles, unmentionables, nether garments, and sit-down-upons.
piss, piss spot: used throughout the century.
piss proud: a term for a false erection, i.e., one produced in the morning and not necessarily by sexual arousal. Used throughout the century.
prick: used throughout the century.
puss, pussy: dual meaning. Used widely as endearing appellations for women throughout the century, but also used in the vulgar sense (female genitalia) in some circles.
quim: female genitalia, used throughout the century.
randy: wanton or lecherous, from 1847 on.
redneck: a poor, white rural Southerner, &om 1830 on.
scalawag: a mean, rotten or worthless person, from at least the 1840s.
screw: euphemism for sexual intercourse, used throughout the century. Also, to drive a hard bargain, used throughout the century.
shit: used throughout the century.
snatch: female genitalia, used throughout the century.
snore, swan, swow: Euphemisms used by New Englanders for the word swear, which was once itself considered a swear word. Used throughout the century.
1848: "Welll I swant" exclaimed the mamma, giving a round box on the ear to a dirty little urchin, "what made you let the little huzzy have your specs?" Mrs. Claver's Forest Life, Vol. I., p.29
1848: 1 took a turn round Halifax, and I swan if it ain't the thunderinest, drearyist place I ever seen and the people they call blue-noses. Letter from Hiram Bigelow in Family Companion
sodomite: homosexual, used throughout the century.
son of a bitch: a very popular epithet throughout the American West from mid-century on.
strumpet: a whore, used throughout the century.
tarnal: a Yankee swear word, ftom the 1700s on.
1825: 1 know your tarnal rigs inside and out, says 1. John Neal, Brother Jonathan, i, p. 158
1848: The ship drifted on tew a korril reef, and rubbed a tarnal big hole in her plankin. W.E. Burton, Waggeries, p. 17
tarnation, nation: euphemisms for damnation, widely used throughout the century.
1801: The Americans say, Tarnation seize me, or swamp me, if I don't do this or that. Colonel G. Haner, Life, ii, p.151
1824: General Key is a tarnation sly old fox, for one that looks so dull. Microscope, Albany, April 3
1827: [The Militia system] by burning a nation sight of powder, makes way with a good deal of villainous saltpetre. Massachusetts Spy, October 31
1843: You've got this child into a tarnation scrape this time. Knickerbocker Magazine, August
1847: [He remarked to me that it was] all-nation hot inside the clap- boards. Knickerbocker Magazine, July
twat: female genitalia, used throughout the century.
whoremonger: not a pimp, but one who patronized prostitutes frequently.

This document was originally hosted on the Authentic Campaigner website and is posted here with his permission.