The civilizing process was thus co-opted by the middle class as a way of differentiating themselves from the lower classes. They asserted their “civility” through language — the euphemisms they chose drew attention to an extreme delicacy that shrank from anything even pointing vaguely in the direction of taboo, marking them off from the lower classes, who, it was thought, still called a spade a spade, a water closet a shithouse.
…Like many of our most prescriptive points of grammar, modern attitudes toward swearing and social class are the legacy of Victorian social climbers who were afraid to look working-class.
…With the development of feminism, many swearwords have become more equal-opportunity, not less. Bitch can now be applied to men and women, as can cunt. In the nineteenth century shit as a noun was reserved exclusively for men — the West Somerset Word-book defines it as “a term of contempt, applied to men only.” Now, women can work, vote, own their own property, and be called a shit.
…Most of our obscene words, in contrast, as we’ve seen, can be used nonliterally. It is possible that as epithets become stronger obscenities, they will likewise begin to lose their referential function. Perhaps one day nigger and paki, like fuck, will be able simply to express strong emotion, negative or positive, without calling to mind their denotative meanings. One day, perhaps, they may even be plugged into the damn you formula that gave us fuck you, producing the even less-comprehensible nigger you. For hundreds of years, though, English had swearing that did not need the grammatical flexibility of verbs. Perhaps, then, epithets could be used as were oaths such as by God’s bones. In the twenty-second century maybe we’ll be swearing by the retard’s toes.
Oh, okay. More Mohr: