Bonus CURSED OBJECTS Material: Cursed Words

This f’n essay was meant to be a late-addition sidebar in my f’n Cursed Objects. After f’n layout, we thought we might need to fill some f’n space, so I wrote this f’n essay. Turns out we didn’t need it, which was fine, I guess. Goddamnitalltohell.  

In June 2001, Comedy Central’s animated television sit com South Park debuted an episode called It Hits the Fan, in which characters drop the S-bomb and its variations 162 times over the course of the twenty-two-minute show without any obscuring bleeps. In addition to being a television experiment, the story explored the idea that curse words were literally such: words that were cursed. In saying S#%& so many times, the characters became cursed, vomiting out their intestines and summoning a dragon.  

But is there really more than a linguistic connection between curse words and cursed objects? Can you have a cursed direct object? A cursed object of a preposition?

Many of the cursed objects in this book have curses inscribed or written directly on them. The Cursing Stone. William Shakespeare’s grave. The Björketorp Runestone. Chain emails. Without the words themselves, these objects would just be so much rocks and spam. So those words are curse words. The words of a curse.

And that is also the origination of some of what we colloquially call “curse words,” also known as cuss words, swear words, four-letter words, dirty words, profanity, expletives, and “the words that got Lenny Bruce arrested.”

According to Dr. Emma Byrne in her book, Swearing is Good for You, curse words historically stem from three types of religious speech: swears, oaths, and curses. These are words and phrases that, when spoken, were believed to have supernatural power to influence events and affect people for good or ill (although usually ill), either through requesting or demanding action by some supernatural entity (usually a deity) or by profaning those supernatural entities.

So, much like a cursed object, you could inflict harm and death passively on a person with these cursed words. Just by telling them to go to H-e-double-hockey-sticks. Or by throwing a “Damn you!” at them. And it’s a lot easier than slipping them the Hope Diamond.

Over time, what has been considered profane-able has broadened beyond religion. Like polite society. You can’t curse over dinner at Grandma’s. And, as such, taboo terms for biological parts and processes have been included in our everchanging list of words that you also can’t voice during dinner at Grandma’s.

Eventually, we didn’t need any taxonomy of obscenity, as we generally use all curses, swears, and profanity for the same reasons, in the same contexts, and even according to the same formulations (for instance, we’ve stuck just about every curse word in front of the word “sake.”). So all bad language was lumped under “curse words,” although all the various synonyms are still commonly used today.

All that said, today, a curse word can still bring harm as much as any cursed weapon or cursed gravestone. And that’s when you aim one at the wrong person. Because another synonym for curse words is “fightin’ words.”

Buy Cursed Objects: Strange But True Stories of the World’s Most Infamous Items on AmazonIndieBoundBarnes & Noble, or Bookshop.