Language is constantly changing, and swear words are no exception. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that our ancestors from long ago had a rich vocabulary of curses and foul phrases that they could unleash on their enemies. Some of these might be worth bringing back, so we can put every smellfungus and Arfarfan’arf in their place. But others? hers are simply too filthy.
In the time of a defined upper and lower class in Europe, calling someone a churl was a major insult. The word meant peasant and is similar to the modern-day phrase “trailer trash.” The noun disappeared, but part of the word is still used in the adjective churlish.
This insult pertained to men who were liars, cheats, or con artists during the Renaissance, though its connotation wasn’t always so immoral. Before taking on this definition, the word originally referred to a peasant or a servant during medieval times.
In the Renaissance, cozen was a verb for cheating people. It likely originated from the phrase “to make a cousin of,” which was a popular scam of the time: someone would claim to be a part of the family and then con the target out of their money.
A dirty word to use in place of excrement is scumber. Actually, scumber doesn’t sound like a curse word — it seems too fun and lighthearted. If you want to try to bring back this verb, you should know that it only applies to dogs or foxes.
Shakespeare was famous for including this swear in many of his plays. When a character uses this exclamation — like “Sblood, I would my face were in your belly” in Henry IV, Part 1 — you know something is about to go down. It’s short for “God’s blood,” and packs a powerful punch in the Bard’s work.
Our sincere apologies to Noras everywhere. Cockneys in England often used the curse “flaming horror,” and Bloody Nora is an offshoot of that. It’s kind of like saying bloody hell — the user is in complete disbelief about something.
This word came from the Bethlem Royal Hospital, the longest-operating European psychiatric hospital. It was founded in 1247, and in the 1600s and 1700s was known for its terrible conditions for patients. Calling someone a bedlamite meant you thought they were acting insane.
Another word for scurvy is scald. This sickness was especially common in sailors, pirates, and anyone else who spent prolonged lengths at sea and didn’t get enough Vitamin C. Victims of the scald would have loose teeth, rough and bruised skin, and other awful medical problems.
Gadzooks is a shortened version of “God’s hooks,” or the nails that were pounded into the cross. This exclamation has been in use since the 1600s, though it also sounds like it easily could have originated in 1930s American crime movies.
What in tarnation does thunderation mean? Thunderation is a lighter version of the swear damnation, and its heyday was 1830s and ‘40s America. We can definitely see an old prospector or saloon owner using this word.
A Spanish word that literally translates to “sh*tfire,” it was also the name of pirate Sir Francis Drake’s ship. Despite the literal meaning of cacafuego, the term originally meant that someone was bragging too much about their accomplishments.
One of the better curse words from long ago, jobbernowl can trace its origins to France. It was an insult that translates to “stupid head” or “numbskull.” The silly word was a way to really let someone know you thought they were being dumb.
Have you ever traveled with someone who complained the entire time? You may have been with a smellfungus, or a person who always has terrible things to say about the variety of places he’s vacationed. Today, a smellfungus might be known for leaving overly harsh Yelp reviews!
If you’re an introvert, you’re probably afraid of rakefires: guests who overstay their welcome, even though you’re ready for them to leave. Of course, common custom prevented most hosts from outright booting their guests out the door. But a good swear like rakefire helped vent some of the frustration.
This Renaissance-era term applied to both puppies and human children who are misbehaving. It’s meant to insult the misbehavers by comparing them to fragile puppies. Whelp was used well into the 1970s in some communities.
As you may have guessed, partner, consarn it came from the Wild West. Consarn refers to the entirety of something and is likely related to another dead word: concern, which refers to a place of business. Combined with it, the phrase casts the speaker’s displeasure.
Elizabethan pimps were called panders (if they were male) and bawds (if they were women). One of the most famous bawds of the time was Mary Frith. She lived in London, where she was also known as Moll Cutpurse. Her exciting, scandalous life inspired the play The Roaring Girl.
What does this medieval word mean? We’ll let a 10th-century bible translation give you context. The text contains the phrase, “Don’t sard another man’s wife.” Basically, sard is another version of the f-word. Sard it all!
Waesucks was invented through Scottish Middle English and stems from “woe’s sakes.” When an ancient Scot was horrified or felt piteous or sorrowed, they relied on this exclamation. This is another fun one to say, though a bit hard to spell.
If someone drank too many “arfs,” or half-pints of beer, they may turn into an arfarfan’arf, meaning a Victorian drunk. While the Victorian people have a reputation for being strict and buttoned-up, they coined a number of absurd and hilarious slang terms.
One thing that’s never good in excess is lying, which is why Victorians were fond of the saying, “don’t sell me a dog.” Many people who sold dogs back in those days often tried to pass off mutts as purebreds, so this phrase came to mean “don’t lie to me.”
While “chuckaboo” might sound like the name of an imaginary creature you made up when you were eight, Victorians actually used the word quite often. “Chuckaboo” was what they called their closest friends, or, in our terms, their BFFs.
When life hits you hard, someone from the Victorian Era might tell you you’ve “got the morbs.” This rather clever phrase from 1880 means to experience some momentary melancholy.
Hopefully you’ve managed to sober up, because one your friends is now about to “shake a flannin” with a stranger. This is the Victorian way of saying they’re going to fight.
Sober up by putting some hearty food into your “sauce-box.” If you can’t figure that one out, you’re probably still way too “arf’arf’an’arf” and should keep eating.
To Victorians, bacon and butter were considered luxuries on their own — put them together, however, and that was a bit too much. So if something was a little too extravagant, they’d say it was “butter upon bacon.”
Nothing beats true friendship, and the best way to show love to a buddy is by “doing the bear”. Wrap your arms around them and give them a big bear hug.
Karaoke nights are known for attracting some not-so-great singers, but instead of hurling your drink at them, just call them “whooperups.” The term roughly translates to “inferior, noisy singers.”
Now, on the flip side, if you wanted to say you “completely understand” in Victorian slang, all you have to say is “umble-cum-stumble.” It’ll likely sound like you have too much food in your mouth, but maybe someone else will “umble-cum-stumble.”
Some of the silliest-sounding Victorian slang words actually have pretty intelligent origins. Batty-fang, for example, is a Low London phrase that basically means “to beat someone up,” possibly derived from the French battre a fin.
Fret not, animal lovers; the saying “smothering a parrot” doesn’t mean what you think. The alcohol absinthe was once also known as “parrot” due to its green color, so, in short, the phrase means to drink some absinthe.
Not all Victorian slang is completely ridiculous — in fact, some of it is even used by business professionals today. Lawyers, for example, use the word “suggestionize,” which means “to prompt.”
When trouble’s a-brewin’, there are those who chose to run, and those who chose to be “bricky.” If you’re the “brave and fearless” type, then this word is perfect for you.
Back in Victorian England, you might describe something as “bang up to the elephant.” This bizarre phrase has a rather simple meaning: “perfect, complete, and unapproachable.”
If some of this slang has you confused, no sweat: there’s even a term for “complete and absolute confusion.” Next time you’re caught in a pickle and left scratching your head, you can say you’re feeling like a “fifteen puzzle.”
While this saying unfortunately spawned from the act of dog fighting, “collie shangles” was actually coined by Queen Victoria herself. The phrase basically means to have a quarrel or fight with someone.
As silly as “daddles” may sound, it’s literally just another word for your hands. So if anyone ever tells you “nice daddles,” just remember: they’re only being slightly less creepy than they come off.
A portmanteau of “damned if I know,” “damfino” was probably uttered by this young gentleman when his wife asked where he parked their other wagon. “Did you leave it by the streetlamp, Bartholomew?” “Daminfo, Catherine!”
If “chuckaboo” still has you grinning from ear to ear, someone from the Victorian era might call that a “gigglemug.” The phrase refers to a “habitually smiling face.”