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Holy Sh*t summary

Melissa Mohr

A Brief History of Swearing

4.1 (50 ratings)
17 mins

Brief summary

Holy Sh*t by Melissa Mohr explores the history and cultural implications of swearing. With a mix of humor and scholarship, the book argues that swearing can serve important social and emotional functions, and reflects on why some swear words are more taboo than others.

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    Holy Sh*t
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    The Romans swore like sailors, but about different things than modern people.

    Imagine you’re strolling through the column-lined walkways of Pompeii, Italy, a city preserved just as it was nearly 2,000 years ago. As you’re taking in the ancient Roman architecture and basking in the history of the place, you suddenly encounter some seriously obscene graffiti.

    That’s right, the Romans were no strangers to swearing, although they swore slightly differently to how we do today; the words thought of as most offensive in ancient Rome were the result of a unique take on sex and gender.

    Instead of seeing sexuality in terms of heterosexual or homosexual, as is common today, the Romans viewed sex as either an active or passive act. Being active was related to masculinity and, therefore, implying that a man held a passive role in a sexual act was considered the greatest offense. According to Roman sexual norms, an “active” man should have the desire to penetrate; whether that desire was for women, men or boys was totally irrelevant.

    Given this cultural norm, the worst insult you could hurl at a Roman man was to accuse him of cunnum lingere, or as we know it today, cunnilingus. As a result, one of the pieces of graffiti in Pompeii reads Corus cunnum lingit, or “Corus licks cunt.” Naturally, it’s somewhat shocking for us to read these words now, and they were just as obscene in Roman times.

    The tremendous taboo surrounding cunnilingus can be attributed to the ancient Roman belief that penetrating another person is desirable, while being penetrated by someone is a sign of femininity. Therefore, a man, with the ability to penetrate, who instead chose to perform cunnilingus was shamed and seen as emasculated.

    One Roman epigram that highlights this fact reads, “Zoilus, you spoil the bathtub washing your arse. To make it filthier, Zoilus, stick your head in it.” To break it down a little, since Zoilus performs cunnilingus, the speaker asserts that his mouth is dirtier than his rear.

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    What is Holy Sh*t about?

    Holy Sh*t (2013) is a journey through the history of swearing. Starting in ancient Rome and coming up to the present day, these blinks delve into the cultures of different periods to highlight the rich evolution of swear words and obscenities throughout history.

    Holy Sh*t Review

    Holy Sh*t by Melissa Mohr (2013) is an insightful and entertaining exploration of swear words and their historical significance. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • It provides fascinating historical context to often-overlooked words, shedding light on their origins, evolution, and cultural impact.
    • Engaging anecdotes and examples from literature, film, and everyday life make the book a captivating journey through the world of profanity.
    • The author's balanced and humorous approach ensures that the book is never dry or dull, making it an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.

    Best quote from Holy Sh*t

    Romans shouted obscene language relating to genitalia and sex during wedding ceremonies to promote fertility.

    —Melissa Mohr
    example alt text

    Who should read Holy Sh*t?

    • Language lovers
    • Historians, anthropologists and students of cultural studies
    • People who want to broaden their swearing vocabulary

    About the Author

    Melissa Mohr is an American writer who holds a PhD from Stanford University in English Literature with a specialization in medieval and Renaissance literature.

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    Holy Sh*t FAQs 

    What is the main message of Holy Sh*t?

    Holy Sh*t explores the fascinating history of swear words and their social impact.

    How long does it take to read Holy Sh*t?

    Reading time for Holy Sh*t varies, but the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Holy Sh*t a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Holy Sh*t is a compelling read that offers an insightful look into the history and significance of swear words.

    Who is the author of Holy Sh*t?

    The author of Holy Sh*t is Melissa Mohr.

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