14 Old Swear Words That Should Totally Make a Comeback
Cussing has been around since the time we could stub our toes. Though we’re all familiar with the swear words of the modern age, what about swear words from before our time? Believe it or not, there are actually quite a lot of them, and each one is more hilarious than the last. Below are 14 of our favorite ancient swear words from history that should definitely make a comeback.
Before the F-bomb, there was “sard.” Sard was a word used around the 10th century that was often used similarly to how the F-bomb is used today. Typically, it was used to describe people having sex. In fact, Aldred the Scribe once used the term in an ancient translation of Matthew 5:27. While translating to Old English, he wrote “don’t sard another man’s wife,” rather than the modern translation of “don’t commit adultery.”
Angry Viking warrior shouting, and probably employing several old swear words. Source: Grega / Adobe Stock
As implied by the name, a “bedswerver” is someone who cheats on their partner. This term was coined by William Shakespeare in his play The Winter’s Tale to describe someone who often “swerves” into other people’s beds. Yikes!
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If you want to call someone an idiot without telling them, just call them a “zounderkite.” That’s how people did it during Victorian times, at least. Zounderkites were also known to be clumsy and make frequent mistakes.
Probably the most vulgar on this list, “rantallion” was slang used in the 18th century to describe someone whose penis is shorter than their scrotum. It was often used to insult men, for obvious reasons. Fun fact: Michelangelo’s David is a rantallion. Though perhaps it wasn’t much fun for him.
If you were to use 18th century swear words and slang, you’d probably call Michaelangelo’s David a Rantallion. (Jörg Bittner / CC BY 4.0)
Here’s one your kids will like. To “bescumber” something meant “to spray poo” upon it. It is believed to have been created sometime in the 17th or 18th centuries and was often used to describe something as insignificant or worthless. If you’re willing to spray poo on it, it probably isn’t something particularly valuable.
Similar to zounderkite, “fopdoodle” was a fun little way to call someone an insignificant fool. It’s often referred to as the ancient way to call someone a “dumbass.” The term comes from the combination of “fop,” which translates to “dandy,” and “doodle” which translates to “mindless simpleton.”
15th-century depiction of a laughing fool, possibly by Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen. (Public domain)
If you think this term has anything to do with someone who smells like mushrooms, you’d be wrong. Smellfungus was a term created by Laurence Sterne, who wrote the 1759 novel The Life and Opinions of Tristam Shandy. The term was used in the book to insult a man who kept complaining about his traveling opportunities. It was later used in society to refer to people who are “buzzkills” or generally moan about anything.
“Numpty” is one you actually may have heard of before. This term is used to insult someone’s intelligence. Think of it like another way of calling someone an “idiot” or “stupid.” It’s sometimes still used in Britain and Scotland.
The literal translation of “bawheid” is “ball head.” This term is also from Scotland and has a few different meanings. The first is that your head is full of trash, which is basically a longer way of calling someone an idiot. Other sources claim it means someone who irritates you. Though this could just be because they’re an idiot.
“Thingumbob” has two interesting meanings behind it. The first (and more vulgar) is that it was used to refer to a man’s testicles. The second is that it was often used to demean someone you don’t know. For example, if you don’t know someone’s name and don’t care to learn, you would just refer to them as “that thingumbob.” The insulting nature of this statement likely also stemmed from its original meaning. I don’t think anyone would particularly like to be called “testicle” instead of their name.
This one’s fun to yell out. “Gadzooks!” is a word derived from the phrase “God’s hooks,” which refers to the nails used on Jesus during his crucifixion. This was often used in shocked exclamation, similar to “Oh my God” today.
Democritus, the Laughing Philosopher, by Johannes Moreelse. (Public domain)
“Whiffle-whaffle” was a common insult in Britain in the 16th century. A whiffle-whaffle was used to refer to someone who likes to waste other peoples’ time. If you’re frequently late to appointments, you might be a modern-day whiffle-whaffle.
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This swear word was specially reserved for the Victorian upper class. Obesity was relatively uncommon in Victorian England due to more physical activity and uncertain food availability. Since upper-class individuals such as royalty often had more access to food and less physical labor to do, they were often overweight in comparison to the rest of the population. Cue the insulting term “jelly-belly” for your least-favorite aristocrat.
Finally, “muckspout” is a great word to call yourself if you read any of this article out loud. Muckspout is used to describe someone who keeps swearing!
Gadzooks! Don’t Be Such a Zounderkite
Swear words today are quite different than those of the past. Ancient people typically had less regard for crude language than we do today, so they had significantly more swear words than we do now. They were also more specific, rather than a general term that could be applied to many situations (think of how many ways you can drop the F-bomb, for example). So, the next time you’re talking to a fopdoodle, be sure to tell ‘em exactly what they are. After all, ancient people wouldn’t have batted an eye.
Top image: Swear words in a speech bubble. Source: Yuliia / Adobe Stock
By Lex Leigh
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Linney, S. 5 May 2020. “How to swear like the old days” in Readable. Available at: https://readable.com/blog/how-to-swear-like-the-old-days/
Medievalists.net. 3 November 2018. “By god's bones: Medieval swear words” in Medievalists.net. Available at: https://www.medievalists.net/2013/11/by-gods-bones-medieval-swear-words/
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Okrent, A. 8 January 2015. “10 old-fashioned swears to spice up your cussin'” in The Week. Available at: https://theweek.com/articles/466276/10-oldfashioned-swears-spice-cussin