When in Rome, swear as the Romans do
What’s the meaning of the word irrumatio? In Ancient Rome, to threaten another individual with irrumatio qualified as one of the highest offenses, topping off a list of seemingly frivolous obscenities that — needless to say — did not survive into the modern era. Instead, shifting cultural taboos from century to century produced an ever-changing assortment of swear words, with varying sexual, religious, and racial connotations. Melissa Mohr, author of Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing, examines one of our timeless guilty pleasures and demonstrates the usefulness of linguistic obscenity in order to “express emotion, whether that emotion is negative or positive, offer catharsis as a response to pain or powerful feelings, [and] cement ties among members of groups in ways that other words cannot.”
Melissa Mohr received a Ph.D. in English Literature from Stanford University, specializing in Medieval and Renaissance literature. Her most recent book is Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing.