Frelling Shtako! A Review of Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing and Its Applications for Conlanging

Don Boozer has been interested in invented languages ever since discovering Dr. Seuss’s On Beyond Zebra in his elementary school library in the 1970s. Boozer’s previous articles include “I Want to Speak Elvish! Teens and the World of Imaginary Languages” (VOYA: Voice of Youth Advocates. August 2007), “Speaking in Tongues: Literary Languages” (Library Journal, Reader’s Shelf column. September 15, 2006), and “Conlanging: An Introduction to the Art of Language Creation” (Fiat Lingua. June 1, 2013). A librarian by trade, Boozer created the exhibit Esperanto, Elvish, and Beyond: The World of Constructed Languages which appeared at the Cleveland Public Library in 2008 and the 3rd Language Creation Conference in 2009.

Abstract

DISCLAIMER: The following review essay includes topics not suitable for all ages and language not suitable for work (NSFW). Reader discretion is advised. As the author of the book under review states: “If you haven’t already been offended by this book, chances are you will be. I can only apologize in advance.”

Although swearing has probably existed since humans began using language to communicate, it remains largely a taboo subject of discussion in “polite circles” let alone an acceptable mode of speech. This form of language is powerful, demands attention, and can evoke visceral reactions in both speakers and listeners. This makes swearing an important and interesting facet of language, and Melissa Mohr’s Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing joins a growing corpus of works examining this fascinating subject.

Additionally, many conlangers (and artlangers specifically) often speak of wanting to create a conlang that emulates natural language. Including profanity within one’s created language, especially if the conlang is meant to be spoken by inhabitants of a con-culture, would be yet another way to provide the verisimilitude for which many artlangers strive. This review-essay then examines both the natural and conlang dimensions of swearing.

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