A History of Profanity

Writer: Stasy Zaganidis

Illustrator: Leigh McDonald


As a nation we have developed an affinity for profanity. Where other countries recoil in shock at the use of a swear word, Australians are more likely to respond with a smile and another curse.


From what history tells us, profanity is in our blood. Immigrants from England were known to have adopted vulgar language established by convict settlers to fit in. By the mid-19th century the word ‘bloody’ was ingrained into the culture and used with startling frequency.


However, sixty years ago it was actually unacceptable in schools to say ‘bloody’. Somewhere over the last six decades we just stopped caring. Maybe it was when all the humanitarian movements surged and war hot spots broke out across the world. Did that take our attention away from profanity? Let’s face it, there’s a lot more to worry about in the world today than whether or not you use ‘fuck’ in conversation.


Why do Australians swear so much? This question was posed by Roly Sussex, a professor of applied language studies at The University of Queensland. Sussex was not certain but suggested it might be because we generally have a ‘laid-back’ quality, to which we say bloody oath!


Australians swear. In fact we swear a lot. The words ‘fuck’, ‘shit’ and ‘bitch’ are as essential to our cultural vocabulary as ‘thongs’, ‘Maccas’ and ‘mate’. Aussies of all stations partake in vulgarities, even Prime Minister Kevin Rudd dropped ‘shitstorm’ in one of his speeches, which was actually well received by the majority of Australians.


A fine line does appear regarding swearing in professional situations. In one instance, the Australian Workplace Ombudsman fined a boss for swearing at an employee in a threatening manner. Another points out a teacher almost being fired for educating students in the meaning of the word ‘fuck’ so that they could better understand the context of it when they heard it in the future. So if you’ve got a fondness for curse words, best mind the context.


We Australians use profanity because we’ve grown up with it, and because we are a people of simple expression. It’s not a problem for us. But if you do have a problem with our frequent profanities; build a bridge and get the fuck over it.

Writer, Editor and former contributor, Stasy Zaganidis graduated from Victoria University in 2015, obtaining his Bachelor in Communications.


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