Swear Words You’re Neglecting

Expanding Swear-cabulary

If you magically traveled back to Shakespeare’s time, you’d find that people were no less potty-mouthed then than they are today; they swore just as often, except they used some different (but no less crude) words. These days, some of the most legendary old time crudities have started to feel neglected. Won't you help 'em out?

Knave

Knave is a classic insult for someone of the male sex, and it’s no wonder: it makes you scrunch up your nose just saying it.

The word originally meant either a peasant, a servant, or a young boy, as in the common medieval expression “a knight or a knave.” In Shakespeare’s time, though, the word meant something more like a liar, a cheat, or a con artist.

Cozen

In Shakespeare’s time, to cozen someone was to cheat them. While this word’s origin is obscure, it’s likely an abbreviation of the phrase, “to make a cousin of,” referencing a classic scam from Renaissance Europe. Imagine a stranger shows up claiming to be your cousin, gains your trust, and then pilfers all of your money (a Shakespearean version of those completely legitimate e-mails begging for financial help).

Scumber

Scumber (or scummer, as it sometimes appears) is a lovely substitute for that other filthy S-word. For one thing, it’s incredibly fun to say. Try it: I scumbered in the woods. I scumbered on the ground. My dog scumbered all over the neighbor’s flowerbed. (So much fun! So much scumbering!)

Scumber also has the benefit of traditionally describing not just any random excremental activity, but specifically the dropping (and droppings) of foxes and dogs.

Whelp

Children are adorable—except when they’re not. Ever been stuck on a plane with a screaming baby? Ever cleaned up after one that went rampaging through a grocery store? Let’s face it: children can be pests. They’re almost as annoying as teenagers (who think they know everything, the snot-nosed punks)!

Well, back in the time of Shakespeare and Alexander Pope, they knew how to put the young’uns in their place: by comparing them to little dogs. Whelp is an old word for a puppy, but when applied to a human youngster it is anything but a compliment.

Churl

Calling someone a churl seems totally harmless today—you’re calling someone a peasant—but that’s because we no longer live in a world of lords and peasants. It’s still often the case, that people are insulted because of where they came from—consider the derogatory phrase "trailer trash". Even today, the word churl lives on in the adjective churlish, meaning “like a churl; boorish; rude.”

Block

Blockhead, dumbass, brick or block: they all amount to the same thing. You’re saying person in question is so stupid that they’re essentially an inanimate object.

Pander and Bawd

Pander and bawd are Elizabethan words that refer to the male and female pimp. A bawd was typically a lady who kept, ahem... a house of ill repute. (A madam, if you will.) The most famous bawd of Elizabethan London was Mary Frith, also known as Moll Cutpurse, about whom the play The Roaring Girl was written.

Sblood

For those times in life when, “Aw fudge!” feels too tame, there’s sblood (or s’blood.) Short for “God’s blood,” this Shakespearean swear word takes the lord’s name in vain while bringing blood into the picture for extra effect. While many Elizabethan playwrights used the word sblood, Shakespeare owns it. When someone in a Shakespeare play drops a “sblood!,” you know that person’s about to say something wicked.

Jobbernowl

The word jobbernowl has obscure (though apparently French) origins, but seems to have been introduced into English by that satirical potty-mouth, John Marston. A knoll is the crown of the head, so the word basically meant something like “stupid head” or “numbskull”; neither of those is quite as fun to say, though, as jobbernowl.

Scald

Scald is a synonym of scurvy, both originally referring to a terrible sea sickness resulting from a lack of Vitamin C. (You can’t get fruits and vegetables in the middle of the ocean.) Having scurvy meant loose teeth, rough and easily bruised skin, and a whole bunch of other ugly symptoms. To call someone scald is the equivalent of “Ew! You’re gross!”

Bedlamite

Bedlam was Bethlehem Royal Hospital, the oldest and most famous psychiatric hospital in Europe (still operating!), founded in the year 1247 to take care of the poor and indigent. During the 1600s and 1700s, the hospital became infamous as an institution housing the mentally ill in notoriously inhumane and squalid conditions, and it became colloquially known as Bedlam.

During Elizabethan times, Bedlam was depicted in a number of plays, and in the 1700s it became common (if impolite) to call someone a bedlamite if you thought they were kind of nuts.