Day 6

History of Swear Words on Netflix dives into the origins and evolution of foul language

The six-part series takes a look at how the meaning and impact of naughty language has changed over generations and, most importantly, why it feels so good to shout the F-word.

'Part of what we were trying to accomplish was to say that there is no bad language,' says showrunner

Host Nicolas Cage brings humour — and an intellectual nature — to Netflix's six-part comedy series, History of Swear Words. (Adam Rose/Netflix)

In a year as unpredictable as 2020, producing a TV series about the history of swear words was "cathartic" for showrunner Bellamie Blackstone.

"To be able to swear for a living, it was a nice release," she told Day 6 host Brent Bambury about creating the new Netflix series, History of Swear Words.

The six-part series takes a look at how the meaning and impact of naughty language has changed over time and, most importantly, why it feels so good to shout the F-word.

One recent study found that swearing can actually help people withstand pain, while research suggests that swearing that increase adrenaline.

Each episode looks at the origins of one particular curse word, and viewers are guided through by actor Nicolas Cage — who described his hosting persona, in part, as offering the intellectual gravitas of The Twilight Zone's Rod Serling, according to Blackstone — alongside a cast of comedians and experts.

"Part of what we were trying to accomplish was to say that there is no bad language. There's just language that affects people in different ways," said Blackstone.

"As time changes, what we consider to be offensive language is really changing."

WARNING: This video contains explicit language

The series focuses less on modern-day usage of swear words and instead their historical and evolutionary background.

"A lot of them come from medieval times where the language was used in a much different way," she said.

One episode closely examines the word "damn," which was at one time considered one of the "most egregious" words you could use, said Blackstone. "You are damning them to hell," she offered as an example.

But today, she says the word has become "fairly benign."

Several comedians, including Sarah Silverman, offer their takes on the power of vulgar language. Showrunner Bellamie Blackstone says often comedians use swear words to make a point: 'You want to swear because it's either the most emotional moment or it really emphasizes the point or it really shows you how ridiculous something is.' (Netflix)

The perceived severity of swear words can change depending on the age of a person.

Younger generations, for example, may see words that degrade or demean based on one's identity, race or gender as more offensive than more common expletives, like shit, according to Blackstone.

"Those kids who are teenagers, or in their 20s, are going to be adults in the not too distant future, so language will change and what we find offensive will change very quickly," she said.

F-word 'incredibly versatile'

History of Swear Words also looks at how derogatory terms can affect groups of people — and how those words are being reclaimed.

The words bitch and p---y are the focus of two separate episodes. While deeply offensive words to many, Blackstone argues it's important to talk about them.

"We're allowing women to have power over that kind of language and allowing women to take back the degradation and instead say, 'Yes, I am that, and I'm proud of it because it means the following," she told Bambury.

"When you give it a different iteration in that way, you give it a different power."

Asked what swear word she would consider her favourite, Blackstone offered the humble F-word.

"It is so incredibly versatile," she said. "You can use it when you're excited. You can use it when you're scared. You can use it when it is the best, most exciting thing you could possibly tell someone.

"It can be an emotion, it can be an exclamation. It is everything you ever needed in just one word."

Written by Jason Vermes. Produced by Laurie Allan.


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