10 Old Time Swears You'll Want to Bring Back

Wednesday, May 14 min read

Despite what your mother may have told you, swearing is an art form. People have been swearing, and creating new exclamations since the beginning of human language. But as language has changed with history, so has swearing, and certain words and phrases have fallen in and out of fashion. Some of these swear words deserve to be brought into the 21st century.


This noun, used first by Leontes in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, is a colorful and literal phrase meaning cuckold, or someone unfaithful to their marriage bed. The original use goes like this, with Leontes casting aside his wife Hermione and insulting her:

“But with her most vile principal, that she's

A bed-swerver, even as bad as those

That vulgars give bold'st titles, ay, and privy

To this their late escape.”

This term, harsh as it is, became popular once again in Victorian slang. It’s easy to use, easy to understand, and cuts right to the heart of the person's character flaws.


This may sound like a strange approximation of a dog barking, but it’s a real word, trust us. It’s actually a Victorian slang term to pejoratively refer to a person who drinks too much. The “arf” refers to half pints of booze, and an “arfarfan’arf” has had much too much. Example: “He's an arfarfan'arf, and is practically falling into the gutter!” It’s also best used in the archest, most ridiculous English accent you can muster.


Thunderation has gone through some swear evolution. It’s a lighter, more appropriate version of "tarnation," which is in turn a lightening of "damnation." This term came to popularity in the 1850s and faded in the late 1950s, but frankly it should come back. It can be used in the same way as “Hell!” or “Damn!” such as, “Thunderation, that’s a strong horse! You can barely control it!”


Much in the same way as thunderation, swounds is a proper swear. It’s a shortening of “God’s wounds,” a common oath used in the Middle Ages and refers to the wounds in Christ’s crucifixion. There are a number of similar terms, such as “strewth,” which means God’s strength. It can be used as such: “Swounds! What a horrible accident!”

Bloody Nora

Cockney slang is a very specific style of speech native to England, in particular London. By creating rhyming phrases, people who spoke Cockney slang had a unique vocabulary that almost operated as a secret code. “Bloody Nora” is an example of such slang and is a stand in for “flaming horror.” It can be used as a description, such as, “You look like a Bloody Nora!” Although this is best used with your worst/best Michael Caine impression to really sell it.


During the medieval period "sard" was a popular alternative for, we'll call it, "seducing a woman." It phased out in the 1600s, and hasn’t been used again, but it flows off the tongue well and doesn’t sound as vulgar as some modern day alternatives: “I’m going to sard her and even stay for breakfast afterwards.”


Quim actually had a very short resurgence in 2012, when the first Avengers movie came out. Loki, the villain of the movie, calls Black Widow a “mewling quim” in order to shock and insult her into giving him information. It ultimately doesn’t work, but it brought "quim" to the public consciousness, where it hadn’t been for a long time. “Quim” refers to the female anatomy and is usually one of the more insulting ways to refer to it. It’s not a term that should be used lightly, but as a more archaic insult, it has value.


Fustilarian is also a Shakespearean word and is a beautiful way to insult someone (especially when they don’t know what it means). The word was first used in Henry IV in a string of insults by Falstaff to a woman who is on the scene when he is arrested: “Away, you scullion, you rampallion, you fustilarian! I’ll tickle your catastrophe.”

Fustilarious is an adjective meaning low/common and foul smelling; when you call someone a fustilarian, you’re calling them a low fellow, and a stinky one to boot. It’s very rare, passing out of fashion almost as soon as it was coined, which means it’s prime for a comeback.

Consarn it

“Consarn it” is a variation of “confound it,” which in itself is an old-fashioned variation of “damn!” It was used throughout the 1800s, but it fell out of popularity during the 1930s and hasn’t been used since. As a good way to swear around children, it can’t be beat, and the word is just fun to say. As an example: “Consarn it, I can’t find my keys!” or “We have to catch that villain, consarn it!” It’s a fun, deeply American way to mildly curse, and deserves a spot in 21st century slang.


Muckspout is a word that only lasted in popularity for about a year in the 1910s, but it’s a good one: it refers to someone who swears a lot, or has a “smutty” or “dirty” mentality. Examples can be: “Muckspouts are making movies more explicit!” or “Nathan is a muckspout and swears at every opportunity”

Or even: “You’re still looking at this list? You muckspout!”

Photo credit: solidcolours/ iStock

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