Swearing is a part of everyday life, and most people use it sometimes (or often) in their conversation. But the use of bad language also depends on who you are talking too. This was for true too for ancient Romans, who had already perfected the art of less offensive swearing in public.
The English language, as with most other languages in the world, offers less offensive, often even humorous alternatives to swear words. These types of replacement profanities – from ‘darn’ to ‘heck’ – appear to be acceptable to some extent, even in the public sphere and among educated people.
Professor Peter Kruschwitz, Head of the University of Reading’s Department of Classics, has found that these types of concealment strategies can already be found in Roman times. By systematically examining Latin exclamations that were used in the Roman world in public situations, Professor Kruschwitz has established that the Romans, too, employed similar techniques to escape falling hostage to foul language use in public.
Professor Kruschwitz explains, “The notion of words being ‘just words’ certainly does not apply to curses and swear words. Casual swearing does not normally belong in the public sphere and, if it has to be used, its impact needs to be lessened by concealment strategies which reduces the obscenity of the swearing. We have our own way and words of dealing with these scenarios – but this is nothing new. My research shows that the principles we, in the main, uphold regarding swearing in public were already in use over 2000 years ago.
“The Romans employed a host of minced oaths to escape using foul language in public. Where in English one might wish to say ‘Judas Priest’, instead of blasphemous ‘Jesus Christ’, a Roman playwright had used the less of offensive O Apella, o Zeuxis, the names of two famous Greek painters, for ‘by Apollo and Zeus’. Interestingly enough, even the most boorish of Roman plays, full of verbal abuse, do not really resort to expletives to do with sexual organs, activities, or other bodily functions.
“They also used onomatopoetic terms such as butubatta or spattaro, perhaps close to something like