How To Swear Like Shakespeare

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

On yesterday’s show, we looked at the evolution of swearing over the past 75 years—from the days when “damn” first appeared on the big screen in “Gone with the Wind,” to the present day when the “F-word” is routinely written into basic cable shows.

It’s a conversation that ruffled many feathers. Dozens of you wrote and called in to say that we overuse certain four-letter words these days, and that doing so displays a lack of intelligence and class.

Christina from Portland, Oregon wrote:

Can't people be articulate enough to get their point across without being foul? I view people who pepper their daily conversations with swear words, especially the "f" word, as being truly classless.

And Julia from Lago Vista, Texas wrote:

As a teenager in the 1970s, I learned to swear like a sailor. These days, I swear much less, and view swearing as a lazy and uneducated way to speak.

Does swearing really display a lack of education and class?

Anya Saffir doesn't think so. A Shakespeare director and faculty of the Atlantic Acting School, she says there’s no shortage of creativity and wit in well-used profanity. And we need look no further than the Bard himself for proof of that. Saffir joins The Takeaway to discuss the ways that Shakespeare used profanity in his work.


Anya Saffir

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer


T.J. Raphael

Comments [11]

Derac from IL

There is a distinct difference between being risque or bawdy or even ribald and profanity. Shakespeare was risque or ribald. He didn't use profanity. There are dozens of euphemisms for human body parts and/or the sex act that are acceptable in everyday life. But George Carlins 7 words are still what they were then.. profanity and not acceptable in any social setting. Added to that are words that denigrate based on race, ethnicity, religion, etc. Dago, harp, wop, heeb, chink, spic, etc and the 'N' word are not acceptable either. Again, not the type of language Shakespeare would use and we shouldn't either.

Jul. 11 2013 01:54 PM

In college, I took a class in Old English (not Chaucer, that's Middle English; I'm talking what Beowulf was written in). There was one word I loved so very much that I decided it needed to be a curse word. Scrud. I mean it just sounded like a curse word. Got all my friends to start using it (a few were in the class with me and agreed that it should be a curse word a well). I still use it from time to time.

by the way, scrud means clothing. Cursing is all in the way you use the word.

Jul. 10 2013 03:25 PM
Joe in Minneapolis from Minneapolis

For a modern parallel of Shakespeare's highbrow use of low & profane language, just look at today's Daily Show and Colbert Report television shows, which use locker room humor routinely to illuminate enlightened principles.

Jul. 10 2013 02:58 PM
Vince from Utah from Logan, Utah

Profanity used as frequent punctuation in conversation is like spitting on my shoes. Rude and inconsiderate. Some topics or situations require profanity, but not as casual punctuation. I stopped listening to this show.

Jul. 10 2013 02:56 PM
Mike Little from Oregon

So I'd be upset by talking with Todd Zwilich due to his swearing ... and then we switch over to Shakespeare's use of profanity. Surely he and Anya Saffir see the difference between dropping the F-bomb every few words and the creative, descriptive, and thoughtful language of Shakespeare.
Yeah ... I'd not want to talk with Zwilich. Might as well hang out with a bunch of local rednecks wearing backward baseball caps. Good grief.

Jul. 10 2013 02:06 PM
Sharon Hasenjaeger from Portland OR

Seems to me all the examples from Shakespeare were obscenity(to do with sex), not profanity (to do with religious irreverence and the like. Just saying, when discussing language, how about doing it with more accurate language, eh?

Jul. 10 2013 01:05 PM
Aaron from Portland, OR

Let's go back even farther than Shakespeare and look at the Romans. In particular, let's look at Gaius Valerius Catullus. Specifically, let's look at the opening like of Catullus 16.

Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo

Regardless, they are words. And if you think that it gives an impression of a lack of culture or class, none of you have seen the rantings of Malcom Tucker.

Jul. 10 2013 12:59 PM
Pam from Miami FL

What was the book about Shakespeare that was mentioned in the context of profanity being for the groundlings?

Jul. 10 2013 11:38 AM
Doug Howell from St Clair Shores, MI

Excellent piece on swearing and the difference between profanity and vulgarity. While profanity has it's place and uses, though limited, vulgarity does not, and remains the province of the lazy, irresponsible and the ignorant. It is incumbent on all of us to understand and respect where that thin line between the two lies. I remain unconvinced that portrayal of vulgarity has a place in the arts.

Thank you,
doug howell

Jul. 10 2013 10:23 AM
sandra from tamarac, fl

What words we use to express ourselves, depends on what message we wish to convey, what mood we are in, the importance of the subject, and to whom it is directed.
For me, it is most important to concentrate on the lack of concern regarding grammar, which has become, sad to say, very sloppy.
We need to remember the expression, "It's not what we say, it's the way we say it."

Jul. 10 2013 10:12 AM
Steve from Manhattan

My high school english teacher told my class that we should spend time in England to learn more creative ways to be profane, because Americans are so limited in the way they express themselves. That was more than 40 years ago, and I'm worried that the Brits are sinking to our level.

Jul. 10 2013 09:53 AM

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