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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Australian swearing through the ages

Australians take pride in their potty mouths as part of the nation’s cultural identity, according to a new book from the Australian National University.

Rooted, an Australian history of bad language, by the Australian National Dictionary Centre’s Chief Editor, Dr Amanda Laugesen, analyses how swearing was used to defy authority and oppress and control groups.

“In the middle of the 19th century there’s a desire on the part of Australians to be respectable and shake off their convict past,” she said.

“But late 19th century literature celebrates Australian cultural figures like the bushman and the bullock driver, both renowned for their swearing.

“During the First World War, there are a lot of references to Australian soldiers talking themselves up as being much more creative swearers and more willing to swear than the soldiers of other national armies.”

Dr Laugesen explains that in early colonial history, ‘bloody’, ‘bastard’, ‘bugger’ and ‘bulls***’ were the rudest expletives you could use.

Fast forward, and ‘suckhole’, ‘get rooted’, ‘no wuckers’ and ‘we’re not here to f*** spiders’ are some new Australian favourites.

While soldiers were usually forgiven for their swearing due to hardship, Dr Laugesen found women and Indigenous people were often punished the harshest under the obscenity laws.

“On the one hand there were acceptable swearers – generally working men – but on the other it’s unacceptable for working class women and ‘larrikin roughs’ out of work and on the streets to swear, so they get arrested on offensive language charges,” she said.

“Most of the evidence of oppression of Indigenous people comes from the 20th century and into the 21st, where research shows Indigenous people are disproportionately targeted by offensive language laws.”

The research found a shift in expletives from religious blasphemy such as ‘Christ’ disguised as ‘crikey’ and ‘strewth’, short for ‘God’s truth’, to sexual and excretory based swear words.

It also saw a shift in attitudes to certain swear words through different generations.

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