Susie Dent’s Guide to Swearing is top bollocks

Fuck, shit, bollocks, twat, bloody, and cunt are not the seven words you can never say on television – they’re six words that Susie Dent has said on television. Susie Dent’s Guide to Swearing, a new mini-series from Channel 4, offers an informative and irreverent summary of the history and use of some of our favourite bad words. You can watch the full series below.

A word-history specialist and broadcaster, Dent has written several books on language, most recently Dent’s Modern Tribes. She is best known as the resident lexicographer in ‘dictionary corner’ on Countdown, a perennially popular British TV game show. We can’t not mention that Countdown inadvertently produces the odd rude word to great general amusement.

Though she went to a convent school and was not allowed to swear at home (aside from an occasional bloody that ‘managed to fly below the radar’), Dent tells me she didn’t rebel into foulmouthedness. She loves swear words but doesn’t swear often – except at moments of stress or pain, when it ‘most definitely helps’. There’s a word for that:

As a parent she now has to navigate the same tricky waters. Her youngest ‘has a mental list of taboos which she regards with awe and no little humour’, and, sweetly, thinks the c-word is crap – ‘or, more precisely, carp’. Her eldest ‘has just discovered the delights of swearing’ but is aware of her mother’s Guide to Swearing, so Dent concedes she’s on thin ice trying to admonish her.

Susie Dent is fascinated by swear words’ long and meandering lifespans: how cunt, for example, was ‘used openly in school text books and anatomy manuals’ before becoming strongly taboo. Fuck, she says, ‘can still have huge power if we want it to – “fuck you” in the right tone says it all’. And her favourite swear word?

Fuck I reserve for those situations where nothing else will do – usually because I’m cross with myself. But bollocks is so emphatically useful for anything that is sheer and utter rubbish. At a push, I’d go for that.

A screengrab from 'Susie Dent's Guide to Swearing' with Susie Dent on the right and the words 'top bollocks' on the left

One of her favourite parts of the series was finding obscure alternatives to profanity. In the twat video, for example, we learn that crinkum-crankum is 17thC slang for something full of twists and turns – ‘including, as one dictionary of the time put it, a woman’s commodity’. To bescumber is ‘to spray poo upon’, from the sense of dropping a load or encumbrance, and was used by Ben Jonson: ‘Did Blocke bescumber Statutes white suite?’

These and other scatological pleasures await you in Susie Dent’s Guide to Swearing, courtesy of All 4 on YouTube. Each clip is just 3–4 minutes long, so you can watch the lot at a single bloody sitting.

Fuck:

Shit:

Bollocks:

Twat:

Bloody:

Cunt:

17 thoughts on “Susie Dent’s Guide to Swearing is top bollocks

  1. john thornhill July 27, 2017 / 6:07 am

    Why do people swear.anybody can swear. you don’t have to be clever to swear, Foul language to me means you have lost the plot.

    Like

    • Stan Carey July 27, 2017 / 7:38 am

      Why do people swear.
      Anger, joy, surprise, frustration, pleasure, emphasis, confusion, social bonding, catharsis, fun, personal expression, etc. Why do people who dislike swearing read sweary blogs about swearing?

      anybody can swear.
      That’s true.

      you don’t have to be clever to swear
      Also true, thank fuck.

      Foul language to me means you have lost the plot.
      Then you have missed the point. You have missed all the points.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Freshhawk July 28, 2017 / 12:16 am

      Nor do you have to be clever to not swear, at the population level the attitudes of disgust, social conformity and strong moral strictures that lead to this kind of attitude are mildly but measurably correlated with low IQ among other negative traits.

      Caring so much about arbitrary, location specific and ever changing language taboos means, to me, that you have lost the plot.

      Like

  2. Brian McKitting July 27, 2017 / 12:19 pm

    I think the most important factor is not to overuse swearing. It loses its effect if you do.

    Like

    • Stan Carey July 27, 2017 / 4:46 pm

      Swearing in the same way does, anyway. But you can use stronger or more creative swears to sustain the effect.

      Like

      • Andrew Marsden July 28, 2017 / 3:36 pm

        Serial escalation in swearing is one of the best art forms, one that is surprisingly underexploited by comedy writers, now I think about it.

        Like

      • Stan Carey July 29, 2017 / 6:09 pm

        That’s true. I’m trying to think of good examples.

        Like

  3. pppp July 29, 2017 / 7:59 pm

    I have long amused myself by learning substitute word. Tosser, wanker, misbegotten, puta loca are favorites.

    Like

  4. Jim August 6, 2017 / 9:54 pm

    Swearing and tmesis make excellent bedfellows.

    Like

    • Stan Carey August 7, 2017 / 7:12 am

      It draws one’s ear, when the fuck ever it happens.

      Like

  5. sparkgrrl658 August 17, 2017 / 8:18 pm

    as the thread was already down to its last level, i couldn’t reply to your “trying to think of good ideas” comment further up, so i thought i’d post a new comment with the first thing that came to my mind, containing the phrase “shit on my father’s balls,” one of my favorite exclamations for when things have just really gone awry and all the other swears are used up.

    watching this now, he actually doesn’t swear that much, but somehow…it still feels right. (but for whispered swearing, the clip is SFW. from the show “louie.”)

    Like

    • Stan Carey August 18, 2017 / 2:27 pm

      Ah, this is great! I need to catch up on Louie.

      Like

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