antedating "dirty word"

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun Mar 4 17:38:16 UTC 2012

So, "dirty word" was rarer than dirty words?


At 3/4/2012 09:30 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>A note from Geoff Nunberg got me looking into this.
>OED: 1853, but nothing more till 1925.  (The 1853 ex. is "popery," from the
>point of view of an RC.)
>1678 John Ray _A Collection of English Proverbs_ (Cambridge: W. Morden)
>[iv]: But though I doe condemn the mention of any thing obscene, yet I
>cannot think all use of slovenly and dirty words to be such a violation of
>modesty, as to exact the discarding all *Pro|verbs.*
>And that's it for EEBO. (though cf. OED's "dirty" 2a., 1599 etc.,  'Morally
>unclean or impure; 'smutty'.")
>The phrase is very rare too in the 18th C. In the sole ECCO  ex., a husband
>and wife argue about whether a bird is a thrush or a starling:
>1764 R. Lloyd, in _St. James's Magazine_ IV 133:  I know a thrush and
>starling too. /Who was it shot them, you or I? /They're starlings thrushes
>- zounds, you lie. /Pray, Sir, take back your dirty word,/ I scorn your
>language as your bird.
>"Dirty" here must mean 'abominable' (OED 3, a1616 etc.)  rather than
>obscene; same goes for OED's 1853.
>Takeaway: Though "dirty word" in the current sense would have been
>effectively understandable in the 17th C., the usual nuance might have been
>a little different; as a lexical item, however, "dirty word" seems to be a
>20th C. innovation.
>"If the truth is half as bad as I think it is, you can't handle the truth."
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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