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No Swearin’

November 25, 2021

A No Swearin' Sign recovered from a Barn in Verulam Township, made from a Canada Packers Pork Barrel Lid, from McFarland's Store, Fenelon Falls

The Lost Art of the Loud and Profane Oath:

Nineteenth century society was religious, so unlike today’s exclamations of bodily functions, when things got the better of them, people really did take the Lord’s name in vain. And it was a deathly serious matter, risking nothing less than eternal damnation. Church clergy might even become involved, and it would certainly produce a lasting blight on the character of a gentleman—heaven forbid that a lady should ever talk like that! For instance, George Crandell’s complaint against the Lindsay lockmaster (because he wouldn’t put his steam boat through the lock after hours) escalated when Crandell hired a lawyer to complain that the lockmaster had made profane oaths at him. Of course, it would be scandalous for any public servant to behave in such a manner.

So how did people swear?

Then as now, angry people hurled insults at each other—it was nasty enough to call someone a horse thief or liar. But people who had really lost it, might resort to the loud and profane oath. What made the oath profane, was invoking the Almighty in an inappropriate circumstance, inviting divine judgement if they did not follow through on their threat, and in the process breaching the Ten Commandments. For instance, “I swear on [Insert Sacred Figure] that I will…” This kind of swearing left plenty of room for creative ways to round out the sentence. When things had really gone wrong, it was once common to say “God Damn Me,” a shocking thing to hear for anyone who took religion seriously. At about the start of the twentieth century, this more verbose way of swearing was giving way to shorter interjections.

Drat was a euphemism for “God Rot;” Bloody was considered quite obscene and if it had to be quoted in proper writing would be printed B—-y; a bugger was a heretic (it’s original meaning was not sexual). Over time, these words lost much of their impact, as today’s exclamations of bodily functions are not as shocking as they once were—there is an ongoing evolution of new ways to breach social etiquette.

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