Every Time You Curse, You’re Participating in a Weirdly Complex Cultural History

The words we consider naughty are a reflection of how we see ourselves as a culture

Image: Vsauce

We swear for multiple reasons—because it feels good, because we want to hurt others, because we want to express our emotions—and we swear a lot.

Language, though, isn't static—it's evolving all the time. Sometimes the meaning of a word can become so far removed from the idea or thing it originally represented that it can take on a whole new life. Modern curse words have origins that run the gamut from class warfare to religious symbolism. But what "makes a bad word...bad?" asks Michael StevensIn his Vsauce video above, he shows how the words we consider naughty in the moment reflect on how we, as a culture, see ourselves.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Curses! The Four-Letter Word Renaissance Speakers Wouldn’t Flinch At
Who Needs to Wash Their Twitter Mouth Out? A Map of Profanity on Twitter
English Evolving Much More Slowly on the Internet than During the Renaissance

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.