Review: "Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing" by Melissa Mohr

By | 15:28 Leave a Comment

I love weird history. While at times it can be gimmicky, it's always illuminating. Social history at its best.

So, fellow readers, you're probably not surprised that I loved Melissa Mohr's "Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing." I mean, come on. Look at that title, then look me in the eye and tell me that this wouldn't be a great book.

Admittedly, when you pick this off the shelf it's likely for the same reason why you flick to the dirty words in the dictionary or why you put Who Cut the Cheese? on your Amazon wishlist - you want a dirty snicker while education floats vaguely in the background as plausible deniability. But Holy Sh*t is a lot more than an excuse to see scatological humour and swearwords in an academic setting. Through pulling apart two versions of swearing - 'the holy' (curses and oaths) and 'the shit' ('dirty' swearing) - and tracking their development from the Romans to the modern day, Mohr provides a fascinating and insightful lens into our cultural development. Look to what offends a culture most and you will often see what it values most. Focus on what's classified as good manners and how these are broken, and you will always find what the history books are so often trying to hide.

In her journey through the history of swearing Mohr keeps her tongue firmly in her cheek, but treats her history with respect and meticulous detail when it's important. I would even recommend this book alone for her treatment of the history of God's emergence as a monotheistic deity in the bible, which is a fascinating and revealing read that demands a book of its own. By understanding how oaths  was used by God at his youngest in the bible, it informs us as to why they ('the Holy' swears) had such a power to 'hurt' him in the eyes of his believers, and how the power of these oaths died down by the Georgians to modern day.
Also fascinating, by explaining how medieval people were what we would now see as so vulgar - desensitized to 'the Shit' swears - she explains in illuminating detail the power dynamics of the time and why, at the brink before these became offensive, it was perfectly acceptable for Queen Elizabeth 1st to greet esteemed visitors with her boobs out.

For me, social history is always a great pleasure and I applaud anyone who is willing to put in the research to explore these more under-represented areas of history. Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing is a fantastic little book that you absolutely must go out and buy. 
You'll fuckin' love it.

Newer Post Older Post Home