by Ashley Austrew
Swearwords, these days, aren’t just more common than ever. They are also more colorful. A quick warning: there will be a lot of strong language ahead.
Douchnozzle, shitgibbon, cockwaffle—these unique swears are created by taking a common profanity and pairing it with an unlikely noun. And, they’re becoming so popular that The New York Times Magazine has dubbed the people who coin these words as “swear nerds.”
Where did these new swearwords come from?
Creative swearwords have surged in popularity thanks to the internet.
Dan Brooks, in his January 2019 piece “The Rise of the Swear Nerds” for The Outline, traces the trend back to douchenozzle, which first appeared on Urban Dictionary in 2003. The term is a variation on douchebag, slang for “a contemptible or despicable person” since the 1930s and popularized by James Jones’s 1951 novel From Here to Eternity.
As douchenozzle spread in internet-speak, people invented other douche-based insults, including douchecanoe and doucheface. By 2012, author and language observer Ben Yagoda crowned douche- compounds the “Epithet of the Moment” in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
The trend didn’t forget about all the other vulgar words in the language. Into the 2010s, people were concocting words like twatwaffle, fucktrumpet, and pisswizard. In 2013, Jon Stewart got in the game by memorably dubbing Donald Trump Fuckface von Clownstick.
Now, the swear nerds of the internet are introducing all sorts of new blended obscenities, with riffs on our favorite F-word especially popular.
David Simon, who wrote The Wire, called someone on here a "fuckbonnet" this morning.
— willy 💧♍ (@willystaley) January 25, 2019
One of my students has used the word "fucktangular" in an informal essay to describe a situation that was complicated and messy in multiple unpleasant and difficult ways. I am in the presence of greatness and I am stealing this word.
— Hanne Blank (@hanneblank) December 3, 2018
Why are people inventing new swears?
Though swear nerd culture seems like a new thing, English speakers have long been inventing curse words. For one thing, English has a deep well of profanities to draw from. For another, English loves to smash existing words together to create news ones—a process called compounding.
Take shit, for instance. From ancient Germanic roots meaning “to cut off,” shit, as a verb, has been found as early as the 1300s. As a noun for “excrement,” shit has stained the record since the 1500s, including as coarse slang for “an obnoxious person,” (e.g., you little shit). But shit has inspired many a compound since: shitfaced, shithead, shitbag, shitstain, shithole, and shitgibbon, to name a few.
WATCH: The Loaded History Of “Shitfaced”
Inventing new ways to swear is a cherished pastime, and some of the newest ones are catching on, in part, because they are fun to come up with and fun to say. You can essentially take any swear word you know, add a random noun to it, and suddenly you’ve invented a creative insult that rolls off the tongue and gets a laugh. Dick … plus .. ladle … dickladle!
But, the rise of these franken-swears may be more than just fun and games. Dan Brooks observes that these new swears aren’t offending people based on race, gender, or class. They avoid, for instance, hurtful slurs like bitch, which has been denigrating women since the 14th century—though some women are reclaiming it as a term of self-empowerment (e.g., She’s a badass bitch). So, calling someone a shitwaffle, for instance, delivers the all-important message of derision but without being a sexist or bigot.
Easy guide to great non gendered insults: put in a swear and then a 2 syllable noun. The result is usually funny.
— 🔶Laura Nowhere🔶 #FBPE (@HouseInNowhere) January 21, 2019
Are we all just less offended by swearing now?
Attitudes about swearing have also shifted in the recent years. A 2016 poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that one in four US adults uses fuck daily. They also found that the number of people who use the word several times per day has doubled in the past decade. A 2017 review of American literature, meanwhile, found that instances of fuck in novels increased 168-fold from the early 1950s to the mid-2000s. Similarly, shit is found in books 69 times more often than in the 1950s, and motherfucker, an astonishing 678 times more frequently.
We may be swearing more, but words like douchnozzle show we are swearing differently, moving away from identity-based curses to swears that are more creative—and inclusive.
Ashley Austrew is a freelance writer from Omaha, Nebraska. Her work has been published at Cosmopolitan, Scary Mommy, Scholastic, and other outlets.
For more by Ashley, read: “Why Can’t Women Swear?” | “Is It Time For All Couples To Use The Term “Partner”? | “Is “Crude” The Right Word To Use To Describe Someone’s Language?” | “What Does It Mean To Be Electable?” | “Has The Word ‘Expert’ Lost Its Meaning In 2019?” | “How Does Adding The Word ‘Possible’ Change News?” | “Does “Spark Joy” Mean The Same Thing In English And Japanese?”