The Occult Origins of “Curse Words”
A large part of the western esoteric tradition relies on language; “magic words”, curses, and invocations are all about using language in a special way. By setting particular mouth-sounds aside from common use, we imbue them with special value. (Chomsky would probably argue that the reason we choose those words in the first place is that the sounds themselves have innate properties, but that’s for another post). What we choose to call those “off-limits” words even lends a bit of insight about how we think about them.
Curse; origin unknown; possibly from Old French curuz “anger,” or Latin cursus “course.” Rednecks drop the ‘r’ and call them ‘cuss’ words. I don’t know why they drop the ‘r’ sound, they just do.
Swear, on the other hand, comes from PIE root *swer- “to speak, say”, and is only subject to having the ‘r’ sound dropped in Boston. The Online Etymology Dictionary claims that “the secondary sense of ‘use bad language’ developed from the notion of ‘invoke sacred names’” in the 15th century. Interestingly, the word profane comes from Latin “pro fano”, or ”not admitted into the temple (with the initiates),” literally “out in front of the temple,” from pro- ”before” + fanum ”temple”. Thus, the invocation of sacred names is not to be performed by the profane, or the vulgar.
We also find a common root with conjure, from Latin conjurare (from com- “together” + jurare “to swear”) , as well as the very similar concept in invocation, from Latin invocare, meaning “upon the voice”. The use of the voice to bind spirits to the command of the speaker is a tradition that lives on today, though now ‘spirits’ may be limited to the listener’s (or reader’s) state of mind. Still, not too shabby of a trick.
Insult; from Latin insultare via PIE root *sel- “to jump” on. Slur; from Middle Dutch sloren, to drag through the mud. Naming something is a powerful operation. From people to places to brand name goods, the way we label these concepts helps to shape our perception of them (and even the way they perceive themselves). Erik the Red knew the value of a name when he labeled Greenland and Iceland. Studies repeatedly show that giving your child an odd name can have detrimental effects later in life. If you tell someone something long enough, they will tend to believe it. This is where abusive language becomes black magick.
A cursory (waka waka waka) glance at the words we deem offensive quickly breaks down into several fairly distinct categories, mainly scatological, sexual and/or ability-based insults. The 1811 Dictionary Of The Vulgar Tongue defines some of these common ‘curse’ words without referencing their roots. We can do better than that.
BASTARD. The child of an unmarried woman.
Well, way to be straight-forward, Vulgar Tongue. A widely accepted etymology for bastard comes through Old French “batard”, from ‘fils de bast’, or “packsaddle son”, referring to an on-the-road conception on a bed of saddlebags. Sounds like an average night on a fun road trip to me. I’ll go out on a limb and offer an alternate/parallel etymology via the Egyptians, their goddess Bast and the potential offspring of the temple priestesses, or Bast-ards. Attacking someone’s parentage is a throwback to times when having blood ties to aristocracy meant more than just being a product of incest. Bastard is a swing at both parents; one at the mother for being easy and one at the father for being elsewhere. Son-of-a-bitch seems fairly self-explanatory, considering.
BITCH. A she dog, or doggess; the most offensive appellation that can be given to an English woman, even more provoking than that of whore.
Comparing people to dogs, or insinuating that at some point in their family line, bestiality occurred, is common throughout the world. Arabs tend to go heavy on the parents and on the sexuality, though to be fair, these themes are present nearly everywhere we look. Jamaica’s highest insult is to call someone a “bumbo-claat”, or bumbo-cloth.
BUMBO. Brandy, water, and sugar; also the negro name for the private parts of a woman.
Seemingly, the genitals, as well as anything used in, on, near or around them, is fodder for cursing. Forget for a moment that our sexual organs are the source and delivery route of all human life; sexual hang-ups are what give these words power, and we don’t want to rob them of that, do we? Otherwise, it wouldn’t be so bad to be called a dickhead, a cock, or a prick.
CUNT. The chonnos of the Greek, and the cunnus of the Latin dictionaries; a nasty name for a nasty thing: un con Miege.
One of the last words that still has the ability to shock, and one that has an extraordinarily murky etymology. It has been suggested to have roots in everything from queen (via PIE “gwen”, for woman or wife) to quaint (thanks, Chaucer!). It has been rumored to come from Gropecunt Lane, a street well-known for prostitution in Merry Olde England. Some have gone as far as to suggest the acronym “Can’t Understand Normal Thinking”, which, while clever, is inaccurate to say the least. Greek “chonnos”? I can’t find any greek word, modern or ancient, that even comes close. Cunnus seems the most obvious root, being Latin for ”female pudenda”, with odd connotations from PIE “kut-no-” or “sheath”, which derives from their word for “to hide”.
Though the DOTVT doesn’t list an entry, the word twat is another derogatory slang term for female genitalia, albeit one with a decidedly esoteric terminology. In Egyptian mythology, the Tuat is the name of the underworld, and Aleister Crowley has a ritual within the A.’.A.’. entitled “The Passing through the Duat”. There’s good reason to call the beginning of passing through the birth canal “crowning”.
Really? No entry for fuck? That’s weird. Were people not using “fuck” in 1811? They were certainly fucking, even if they refused to call it that. Fuck is often given the false etymology of “Fornication Under Consent (of the) King” or “For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge”, but acronyms weren’t popularized until after WWI.
Random House cites Middle Dutch fokken = “to thrust, copulate with”; Norwegian dialect fukka = “to copulate”; and Swedish dialect focka = “to strike, push, copulate” and fock = “penis”. Meet the Fockers? If you mean Ben Stiller, Dustin Hoffman and Robert DeNiro’s penises, I’ll pass.
ARSE To hang an arse; to hang back, to be afraid to advance. He would lend his arse and shite through his ribs; a saying of any one who lends his money inconsiderately. He would lose his arse if it was loose; said of a careless person. Arse about; turn round.
Asshole straddles the line perfectly between the sexual category and the scatological one. To put it mildly, everybody poops. Farts and shit jokes may not qualify as commedia dell’arte, but they work like a charm for obliterating the pretenses of those who would deny the animal nature of man.
SHIT SACK. A dastardly fellow: also a non-conformist. This appellation is said to have originated from the following story:—After the restoration, the laws against the non-conformists were extremely severe. They sometimes met in very obscure places: and there is a tradition that one of their congregations were assembled in a barn, the rendezvous of beggars and other vagrants, where the preacher, for want of a ladder or tub, was suspended in a sack fixed to the beam. His discourse that day being on the last judgment, he particularly attempted to describe the terrors of the wicked at the sounding of the trumpet, on which a trumpeter to a puppet-show, who had taken refuge in that barn, and lay hid under the straw, sounded a charge. The congregation, struck with the utmost consternation, fled in an instant from the place, leaving their affrighted teacher to shift for himself. The effects of his terror are said to have appeared at the bottom of the sack, and to have occasioned that opprobrious appellation by which the non-conformists were vulgarly distinguished.
Lol, nonconformists being called shit-sacks. Some things never change.
Shit is not an acronym, if you’d already heard the one about “Ship High In Transit“. It comes through Old English “scitan”, from Proto-Germanic “skit-”, via PIE *skheid- ”split, divide, separate.” It is a very good thing to be able to do this, but scat jokes wouldn’t be funny if they didn’t make some people uncomfortable. POOP!
The remaining insults tend to be aimed at disabilities. Retard, moron, idiot and imbecile were all medical terms referring to “feeble-mindedness”. Lame is from PIE root *lem- ”to break; broken”, referring to physical disabilities. Both dumb and stupid both refer to someone who cannot speak. The words that seem to pack the most punch are the words that have the most mysterious roots. By examining them, their potency is diminished. As we further police our speech in the pursuit of political correctness, words and turns of phrase that target individuals or groups will become taboo. Could the left-wing PC conspiracy really be a long-term magickal operation meant to counteract the black magick art of word war?
Fuck if I know.