Review – Holy Shit: A Brief History of Swearing by Melissa Mohr 


Central to Melissa Mohr’s very interesting and entertaining book is the way offensive language has changed over time. In the Middle Ages, for example, sexual swearwords formed part of everyday conversation, while religious curses were on a par with the other nine Commandments. Fast forward to Victorian Britain, where certain four letter words were almost unutterable (at least among the middle classes who seem to get most of the attention in history books). Nowadays, racist and homophobic language, most of which has its roots in the 19th Century, is by far the biggest source of outrage, while ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’ are tame as goldfish by comparison. 

The book begins at the very beginning of time, and suggests one possible early version of the Adam and Eve myth … I was told as a child that Eve was created from Adam’s rib, which explains why men have one more rib than women. But, as Mohr points out, men and women have the same number of ribs. And humans are one of very few mammals who do not have a bone in the penis. 

#justsaying, as they say. 

Published by

Frank Burton

I'm a fiction writer, and founder of the non-profit online publisher, Philistine Press. I'm the author of the short story collection, A History of Sarcasm (Dog Horn 2009). My short story, The World, was featured on BBC Radio 4's Afternoon Reading. My novel, The Prodigals, can be downloaded for free at

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