When angry, count four. When very angry, swear.

MARK TWAIN (1835-1910)


Flicking the Vs

The oldest documented case of someone using the V-sign as we know it dates back only to 1901 with a young man filmed outside an ironworks in Rotherham, and there's no reason to suppose that it dates any further back than the late 19th century. The symbol is either a phallic gesture like the American ‘middle-finger’, or a version of the Mediterranean cuckold symbol of the bull.
A story which is very widespread (particularly amongst the re-enactment community), but entirely spurious, claims that the gesture dates back to bowmen at Agincourt waving their fingers in derision at the French who were in the habit of amputating the fingers of captured bowmen - a fingerless archer being useless. There is no evidence for this.  Despite there being a number of chroniclers (notably Froissart) at the Battle of Agincourt, none of them, nor any other medieval source, refers to the use of the symbol.  Secondly, there was no convention of ransom for common soldiers. Rather than go to all the fiddly business of cutting off fingers, the French would probably just have killed them. Finally, the Agincourt story itself only dates back to the 1970s.
In 2004, a Cumbrian pensioner was reported as being fined £100 for flicking a V-sign at a speed camera while driving at 20mph. In fact, he was done for dangerous driving because, to turn round to make the gesture, he took both hands off the steering wheel - and was caught on camera.


The urge to shout filthy words at the top of his voice was as strong as ever.

Escoffier banned swearing in all his kitchens.

V for Victory

The American-style middle-finger gesture dates back much further than the V-sign: it is obviously a phallic symbol – the Romans referred to the middle finger as the digitus impudicus, or impudent finger.  In Arabic society, an upside-down version of flicking the bird is used to signify impotence.
The V-sign seems to have been a working class thing; Winston Churchill had to be told that it was rude when he first began to use V-for-victory the wrong way. V for victory was the idea of a Belgian refugee lawyer in London, Victor De Laveleye. In a Belgian radio interview he said: ‘I am proposing to you as a rallying emblem the letter V, because V is the first letter of the words “Victoire” in French, and “Vrijheid” in Flemish…Walloons and Flemings are at the moment marching hand in hand, two things which are the consequence one of the other, the Victory which will give us back our freedom, the Victory of our good friends the English. Their word for Victory also begins with V.’
The BBC picked up on it, and the symbol spread through Britain. Beethoven’s 5th symphony was also used to symbolise ‘V’, as the opening notes correspond with the Morse code for the letter – dot, dot, dot, dash. The BBC used it as a call sign in foreign language programmes to occupied Europe. 

None of the best known swear words are of Anglo-Saxon origin.

Swearing Through Pain

If you accidentally hammer your thumb then swearing will make it hurt less. According to research from Keele University, swearing activates emotional centres in the right side of the brain, rather than those cerebral areas reserved for ordinary communication in the left hemisphere, and can have a ‘pain-lessening effect’.

The study involved 64 volunteers who were each asked to put their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating a swear word of their choice. They then repeated the experiment using a more commonplace word that they would use to describe a table. The researchers found the volunteers were able to keep their hands in the ice water for longer when swearing, establishing a link between swearing and an increase in pain tolerance.


Writing for adults often means just increasing the swearing – but find an alternative to swearing and you've probably got a better line.

The F Word

'Fuck' originally meant 'to strike'. Recent research has discovered that, in 1373, there was a field near Bristol called Fockynggroue (Fuckinggrove). This may be the earliest instance of fuck in English used to mean sex (rather like the place name Lovegrove).
According to John Ayto's Dictionary of Word Origins, the very earliest use of the word fuck is as a personal name. It occurs in 1278 in the form of one 'John Le Fucker'.


The thing about sport, any sport, is that swearing is very much part of it.


Arse, bloody, bollocks, and cock are all Anglo-Saxon in origin but, at the time, they were innocent descriptive nouns and adjectives that wouldn’t have been used as terms of abuse, or giggled about behind the bike sheds.
Were Anglo-Saxons particularly polite? Almost all Anglo-Saxon writers were priests, so they wouldn’t have sworn anyway. But, in any case, right up until the 1960s, swear words in writing were very rare. That doesn't mean no one used them - only that they tended to be avoided in print. 

The Norse word 'rassragr' was so rude that a man who was called this could legally kill his taunter. If he didn't, he was declared an outlaw.

In France during the Hundred Years' War, the English invaders were known as 'godons' because of their constant curses of 'goddamn'.

It is illegal to swear on the Caribbean island of Nevis; in 2003 36 of the 40 inmates of the local gaol were there for swearing.

When Pygmalion first opened, it was denounced it for the line 'not bloody likely'. This led to the euphamism 'not pygmalion likely'.

Uncontrollable swearing occurs only in about 5-15% of Tourettes cases.

RICHARD HARRIS (1930 - 2002)

Jesus is just a word I use to swear with.

Swearing has been shown to relieve pain.

During the Hundred Years War, the French called the English invaders 'godons', due to their constant curses of goddamn'.

Swearing makes you sweaty by activating the automatic nervous system, which controls involuntary functions like perspiration.