Smile when you say that in the 17th Century

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM
Sun Aug 1 00:28:33 UTC 2010

Everybody who's anybody  - and that includes OED - knows that somebody in
_King Lear_ gets called "son and heir of a mongrel bitch."  What's less
well-known is that EEBO doesn't turn up another ex. (in any variant form) of
"son of a bitch" till 1671.  (I find no relevant hits for "son of a
b[---].")  ("Biche-son" shows up once, ca1330; and OED doesn't pick up the
scent after the Shakespearean ex. till 1707.)

These exx. show that the three chief modern nuances were all in existence by
1700:  a.extreme insult; b. mildly opprobrious reference; and c.
affectionate term of reference among hearty chaps:

1671  Thomas Shadwell _The Humorists_  (London: Henry Herringman)  28:
_Dry[bob]_. Now I have it, ha, ha, ha, though I am a Dog, I am not the Son
of a Bitch _Crazy_*,* ha, ha, ha.  _Craz[y]_. Why  Sir, who is?  _Ibid_. 31:
He had the insolence obliquely to give me the name of Son of a Bitch.

1673 John Bramhall  _An Answer to Two Letters of T.B._  (London: H. Brome)
43: Hang your self---Rogue---Rascal---Villain---Son of a Bitch---Prate thy
whole Gut full, &c.

1697 Thomas D’Urfey _The Intrigues at Versailles_* * (London: F. Saunders)
12: I knew one _Gulchen_, that us'd to carry Sacks to the _Pinnace_ in our
Dock at _Rotterdam_---just like him, 'tis a good lusty fore-handed well-set
Son of a Bitch.

1697* *Thomas D’Urfey _The Intrigues at Versailles_* * (London: F. Saunders)
26: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha --- dear Devil ha, ha, ha, ha, ha--- dear Son of a
Bitch, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, Rogue, ha, ha, ha, Rascal, ha,
ha. I have done such a ha, ha, ha, such a ha, ha, ha,---such a thing---such
a piece of Wit, ods Sacrament, nothing in all _France_ can mend it, I'm sure
--- ha, ha, ha, here prethee read --- how now, who's that --- hold, hold a

As a "term of abuse," OED doesn't have "bastard" till 1830.  For shame:

*1685-86 William Hickes _*Coffee-House Jests_* (4th ed.) (London: Hen.
Rhodes) 75: A little Boy being a cutting some Bread and Butter, says his
Brother to him, _Why did you not cut me some, when you were a cutting some
for your self, you Bastard you? What_, says he, _d'ye call my Mother Whore,
you Son of a Bitch. If_  I _am the Son of a Bitch then you are a Whelp; And
so are you, you Puppy_, says t'other.

History comes alive. Little bastards.

"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."

The American Dialect Society -

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