At last, at last at last. I’ve always been teasing my American friends why they wish sex on me ( “Fuck you!”) if they wish me bad. This is a great and in-depth article about swearing.

(…) As secularization has rendered religious swear words less powerful, creative speakers have replaced them with words that have the same degree of affective clout according to the sensibilities of the day. This explains why taboo expressions can have such baffling syntax and semantics. To take just one example, why do people use the ungrammatical Fuck you? And why does no one have a clear sense of what, exactly, Fuck you means? (Some people guess “fuck yourself,” others “get fucked,” and still others “I will fuck you,” but none of these hunches is compelling.) The most likely explanation is that these grammatically baffling curses originated in more intelligible religious curses during the transition from religious to sexual and scatological swearing in English-speaking countries:

Who (in) the hell are you? >> Who the fuck are you?

I don’t give a damn >> I don’t give a fuck; I don’t give a shit.

Holy Mary! >> Holy shit! Holy fuck!

For God’s sake >> For fuck’s sake; For shit’s sake.

Damn you! >> Fuck you!

Of course, this transmutation raises the question of why words for these particular concepts stepped into the breach–why, for example, words for bodily effluvia and their orifices and acts of excretion became taboo. Shit, piss, and asshole, to name but a few, are still unspeakable on network television and unprintable in most newspapers. The New York Times, for example, identified a best-seller by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt as On Bull****. (…)

 Thanks harryoh.