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Old English Swear Words and Their Fascinating Origins

Delving into the profanities of yesteryears can provide us with a fascinating glimpse into how our forebears saw the world, what they believed in, and even their sense of humour.

Old English swear words are not only educational but also surprisingly fun. They're portals to a different era, and they provide us with a fascinating glimpse into how our forebears saw the world, what they believed in, and even their sense of humour.

Are you ready to delve into the profanities of yesteryears?

Today, we embark on a curious exploration into the realm of swear words in Old English, unravelling their meanings and often fascinating origins.

Are you ready to travel through time?

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1.  Bedswerver: Adulterers in Shakespearean Vernacular

In the annals of Old English swear words, "Bedswerver" emerges as an interesting linguistic artefact. This term, denoting an adulterer, bears the mark of Shakespearean inventiveness, and found its fame in Victorian slang.

The meaning of this compound word is quite straightforward. Formed by combining ‘bed’ and ‘swerver’ (a person who deviates from a path or commitment) suggests a departure from the expected or accepted behaviour within the context of intimate relationships.

2.  Bobolyne: A Tudor Insult for Stupid People

Travelling back in time to the Tudor era, we encounter the whimsical Old English curse word ‘Bobolyne,’ a term of ridicule coined by John Skelton, a prominent figure in the 15th-16th century literary landscape and one of Henry VIII's educators. In the Tudor English of Skelton's day, people used the term ‘Bobolyne’ to mock individuals deemed fools or simpletons.

The term ‘bobolyne’ has intriguing linguistic roots. It appears to have originated from the verb ‘bob,’ which in old English meant "to make a fool of" or "to deceive." Interestingly, this word is very similar to the Spanish word ‘bobo,’ which means ‘foolish’.

3.  Dorbel: Historical Fools

Besides is yet another Old English insult for a bobolyne, one with a fascinating history. The word's origins take us back to the name of an old French scholar, Nicolas d'Orbellis, a staunch supporter of the often-mocked philosopher John Duns Scotus. Duns Scotus was a prominent figure in medieval scholasticism -- a philosophical and theological system of learning prevalent at the time-- and he made significant contributions to theology and metaphysics.

However, as intellectual trends evolved, some of Duns Scotus's ideas fell out of favour, and he became the subject of criticism and ridicule by later scholars and philosophers, particularly during the Renaissance. This criticism eventually extended to his followers, who were seen as overly devoted to his ideas and, in the eyes of his detractors, somewhat unenlightened.

4.  Fustilarian: More Shakespearian English Swear Words

Shakespeare’s language legacy includes one of our favourite old English curse words: ‘Fustilarian.’ This intriguing term makes its appearance in "Henry IV, Part 2," as the irreverent character Falstaff lets loose with a barrage of insults. "Away, you scullion! You rampallion! You fustilarian! I'll tickle your catastrophe," he exclaims in true Shakespearean fashion.

While the precise origin of ‘fustilarian’ remains somewhat enigmatic, it is believed to be a variation of ‘fustilugs’, an Old English swear word to describe someone who is overweight and untidy, often applied to women.

5.  Gillie-Wet-Foot: A Swindling Businessman

In Old Scots, "Gillie-Wet-Foot" is an intriguing term that described a deceptive businessperson or someone who racked up debts and then vanished. Interestingly, it's believed to stem from the Gaelic term 'gillie-casfliuch,' where 'cas' means "foot" and 'fliuch' means "wet." A "gillie" was an attendant to a Gaelic chieftain, often ridiculed for carrying their master over streams.

Yet, the exact link between these terms remains a puzzle. As you can see, there's still a lot to discover about old-fashioned swear words!

6.  Lubberwort: A Plant Turned Playful Insult

Imagine this, in the 16th century, there was something called "lubberwort." People believed this plant could make you feel sluggish and less intelligent, almost like something you might find in a Harry Potter book. But here's the twist – the part about it causing lethargy and stupidity was purely fictional.

Nevertheless, people began using the term "lubberwort" to playfully describe someone who seemed lazy and mentally slow, and this old English curse word stayed popular well into the early 19th century.

7.  Smelfungus: And Old English Swear Word Inspired By a Travel Critic

In 1764, an intriguing encounter took place between two renowned writers: Laurence Sterne, of Irish origin, and the Scottish writer Tobias Smollett. Sterne was taken aback by Smollett's hypercritical nature when it came to the places he had visited during their meeting in Italy, which he had chronicled in a book published in 1776: 'Travels Through France and Italy'. In response, Sterne penned 'A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy' two years later.

In this book, Sterne introduced a character named Smelfungus, a perpetually disgruntled and fault-finding persona inspired by Smollett himself. This name, Smelfungus, soon became synonymous with anyone who habitually spoils other people's fun by finding flaws, especially when visiting new places.

8.  Zoilist: A Greek Critic's Legacy

Let's take a journey back in time to meet Zoilus, an ancient Greek grammarian who had quite the reputation for being an unrelenting critic of the great Homer, the mastermind behind "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey." Zoilus didn't hold back his opinions, and he became famous for his sharp, critical eye. Fast forward to today, and we've inherited a term from him: ‘zoilist.’

Today, this old English swear word describes people who just can't help but be overly critical and nitpick everything, much like Zoilus himself back in the day.

Evidently, there's a lot to learn about literature, philosophy and history from old-fashioned swear words. The terms we've explored today carry stories and cultural insights from the past, and, in doing so, they provide us with a fascinating window into the evolution of our linguistic identity.

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