A: Our parents are totally going to ground us for talking about this, but if you must know, a “curse” was originally just a bad type of prayer. Thus, the first curse word was likely “damn,” as in asking God to damn someone to Hell, which was considered taboo because of the religious power it wielded. And because condemning people to an eternity of suffering isn’t something to let everyone just go around doing on a daily basis, the government stepped in, leading to the first censorship laws. It’s true!
Among the first victims was William Shakespeare, whose works were considered quite racy for their time, and not just because he sent his fair share of characters to Hades. The Bard’s plays were littered with sexual innuendo, and eventually, those types of references became swear words as well. Depending on what the sexual mores of the current generation were, formerly innocuous words could suddenly become unfit for polite company.
The Victorians, for instance, instituted the practice of referring to the thigh meat on a chicken as “dark meat” because saying the word “leg or “thigh” at dinner could be enough to give your hostess a case of the vapors. And in the 17th century, the “c-word” that formerly referred to a certain barnyard fowl took on another, er, more inappropriate meaning, leading to the invention of words like “rooster” and “weathervane” to keep the newly dirty word from crossing genteel lips.
Sometimes these avoidance tactics went a little too far, though. Case in point: the 1952-53 season of “I Love Lucy,” during which, despite the star’s stomach being about the size of the Superdome, censors prevented the show’s writers from even once mentioning the word “pregnant.”