I’m no professor of linguistics, but I do understand that language evolves over time. Pick up a copy of Canterbury Tales or Satyricon and try to tell me you understand every phrase in there. What I didn’t think too much about until recently is that this constant updating, re-purposing, and hijacking of words and phrases applies to cursing, too.
An article I read recently went into great detail about the role that profanity played in the Elizabethan Era. How it was aligned closely with divinity (the word “God” being used in many of the harsher swears of the time) and of course social status.
It’s a very informative read and I got a lot out of it, but the part that really stuck out to me was the very first paragraph which reads:
“In Henry IV, Part One, Shakespeare’s Hotspur turns on his prissy wife: “Heart! You swear like a comfit-maker’s wife. ‘Not you in good sooth!’ and ‘as true as I live!’” Instead Hotspur demanded a good mouth-filling oath. Something like his own “By God’s heart” was more suited to a lady of rank.”
Shakespeare, you know how to write a good story, I’ll give you that. And you’re phenomenal at coming up with new words. But, you’re one sexist bastard. I am more than aware that misogyny isn’t a new trend that just recently popped up, yet that passage by Shakespeare had me shaking my damn head. Leave it to a medieval patriarch to think that his wife needs to improve the language she uses and then offer up suggestions. He’s literally trying to put words in her mouth!
And I’ll admit, I had to look up just what the hell a comfit-maker was because while it sounded familiar, I couldn’t put my finger on it. Turns out that’s just a fancy way of saying candy maker. Back in Shakespeare’s times comfit-makers were the people who made little confections out of dried fruits and nuts that would then be used in desserts… nonpareils, sugar plums, candied almonds, hundreds and thousands (aka sprinkles or jimmies) and the like.
To be honest, being a comfit-maker’s wife doesn’t sound like a bad gig. Sure, if I were living back in the 1600s and was hitched to one of them, I probably wouldn’t be too well off financially. Or socially for that matter. I mean, how much can a bag of candied almonds bring in really? But still, I’d have all the candy I could eat. More importantly, I’d be able to curse however I wanted. Except if it got me sent to the stockades. You gotta watch out for the stockades.