Holy Sh*t: A brief history of swearing by Melissa Mohr

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Holy Sh*t: A brief history of swearing by Melissa Mohr

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Category: History
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Megan Kenny
Reviewed by Megan Kenny
Summary: Holy Sh*t takes us on a 1000-year journey, from the fire and fury of the Old Testament to Twitter, exploring and enunciating the beauty or bastardisation of the English language, depending on how you feel about swearing…
Buy? 'Yes' Borrow? 'Yes'
Pages: 336 Date: July 2016
Publisher: Oxford University Press
ISBN: 978-0190491680

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Holy Sh*t as the name suggests looks at both swearing, in Biblical terms, to swearing, also usually in Biblical terms but with rather more emphasis on the act, rather than the deity. This book takes the reader on a journey from the Old Testament, when swearing your allegiance to the one true God was a prerequisite for staying alive, to the Middle Ages where swearing on the same God was punishable by rather grisly death. That takes care of the Holy, now onto the part you are really interested in, the Sh*t.

What we have here is a dedicated ode to the best way to express yourself in the worst possible way. Mohr gives us jovial descriptions of how to speak with “Roman plainness”, which generally relates to accusing a person you dislike of performing certain, ahem, unsavoury acts. In fact, what Mohr has given us is a book which is almost impossible to review, apart from stating that you should probably not give this to a prudish relative for Christmas, without engaging in the lewdness of language so long eschewed in favour of politer discourse. This is a rather sad indictment of the state of our current cultural climate, rather than any stain on the character of Mohr's humorous, insightful homage to everyone's favourite pastime - saying the kind of words that would make your hair curl. What Mohr does achieve is a narrative which draws the reader through the political, cultural and social events which have shaped our current view on swearing, as well as providing us with the meaning and context of some of the now, unfortunately, long forgotten words.

Whilst this book is obviously well researched, there are points in which the unfortunate dryness of a historical retelling mutes the obvious glee Mohr takes in being able to freely gift us with a plethora of those aforementioned previously forgotten words (a personal favourite of mine being “besh*tten”). Perhaps the combination of both the Holy and the Sh*t, although uncomfortable bedfellows since time immemorial, mean than neither one gets the attention it deserves. As a devoted logophile and a pretty foul mouthed one at that, I have a rather vested interest in the Sh*t, meaning I dragged on the passages about the Holy. However, this does not detract from the evident humour, passion and interest Mohr has in this topic and Holy Sh*t should be read with the same sense of humour. In fact, it would take someone pretty joyless not to chuckle gleefully at the rather salty language employed during our illustrious, apparently rather bodily function focused history. As one always in favour of stirring the pot, my advice is to take a copy of this book on the train, laugh out loud at the beautiful way we as humans have expressed our deepest desires, most fervent passions, bloodiest rages and bawdiest humour for the last thousand years; and if anyone challenges you tell them to f**k off- if it's good enough for Chaucer, it's good enough for me.

For those interested in further reading about language you might try The Language Instinct: The New Science of Language and Mind by Steven Pinker, which gives the science behind our speech or for those more interested in the people of history, try History's People: Personalities and the Past by Margaret MacMillan.

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Buy Holy Sh*t: A brief history of swearing by Melissa Mohr at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Holy Sh*t: A brief history of swearing by Melissa Mohr at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Holy Sh*t: A brief history of swearing by Melissa Mohr at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Holy Sh*t: A brief history of swearing by Melissa Mohr at Amazon.com.

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