Review – Holy Shit

Posted January 4, 2021 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Holy Shit by Melissa MohrHoly Shit: A Brief History of Swearing, Melissa Mohr

Sorry, that really is the title of the book! And it’s kind of central to Mohr’s premise: that there are two axes of swearing, the ‘Holy’ and the ‘Shit’… or the profane and the obscene, or swearing and cursing — however you best see the distinction between “for God’s sake” and “for fuck’s sake”. She sets this up by discussing various different cultures (all familiar to a Western audience), starting with the Romans and Greeks (mostly the Romans), then moving to the development of Judaism and the rising importance of oath-taking… and then round the full circle back to obscenity.

It’s a fascinating history, though it really is brief when you consider the potential scope for investigating swearing throughout history. I found the chapter on the Old Testament Yahweh fascinating — Mohr charts the development of monotheism through the way oaths are taken and the importance of oaths in the Old Testament, and it makes a lot of sense. (Reassuringly, it’s also well-sourced, and includes quotations and examples.)

It was slower-going than I thought, when I look at my reading time records, but I found it very absorbing. My only complaint would be that the ending felt rather abrupt, even with the later postscript (which briefly discusses an analysis of swearing on Twitter). Recommended!

Rating: 4/5

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2 responses to “Review – Holy Shit

  1. Does it also discuss all the mild, rather vapid cussing, the many circumlocutions (Americans seem particularly prone to Jeez! Holy cow! and, my favourite from Daily Planet’s Perry White, Jumping Jehoshaphat! and not forgetting Charlie Brown’s Good grief) that have proliferated over the years?

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