Entries linking to swear-word
Old English swerian "take an oath" (class VI strong verb; past tense swor, past participle sworen), from Proto-Germanic *swērjanan (source also of Old Saxon swerian, Old Frisian swera, Old Norse sverja, Danish sverge, Middle Dutch swaren, Old High German swerien, German schwören, Gothic swaren "to swear"), of uncertain origin, perhaps from a PIE *swer- "to speak, talk, say" (source also of Old Church Slavonic svara "quarrel," Oscan sverrunei "to the speaker").
Also related to the second element in answer. The secondary sense of "use bad language" (early 15c.) probably developed from the notion of "invoke sacred names." Swear off "desist as with a vow" is from 1898. Swear in "install (someone) in office by administration of an oath" is attested from 1700 in modern use, echoing Old English.
[Swearing and cursing] are entirely different things : the first is invoking the witness of a Spirit to an assertion you wish to make ; the second is invoking the assistance of a Spirit, in a mischief you wish to inflict. When ill-educated and ill-tempered people clamorously confuse the two invocations, they are not, in reality, either cursing or swearing ; but merely vomiting empty words indecently. True swearing and cursing must always be distinct and solemn .... [Ruskin, "Fors Clavigera"]
Old English word "speech, talk, utterance, sentence, statement, news, report, word," from Proto-Germanic *wurda- (source also of Old Saxon, Old Frisian word, Dutch woord, Old High German, German wort, Old Norse orð, Gothic waurd), from PIE *were- (3) "speak, say" (see verb).
The meaning "promise" was in Old English, as was the theological sense. In the plural, the meaning "verbal altercation" (as in have words with someone) dates from mid-15c. Word-processor first recorded 1971; word-processing is from 1972; word-wrap is from 1977. A word to the wise is from Latin phrase verbum sapienti satis est "a word to the wise is enough." Word-for-word "in the exact word or terms" is late 14c. Word of mouth "spoken words, oral communication" (as distinguished from written words) is by 1550s.
It is dangerous to leave written that which is badly written. A chance word, upon paper, may destroy the world. Watch carefully and erase, while the power is still yours, I say to myself, for all that is put down, once it escapes, may rot its way into a thousand minds, the corn become a black smut, and all libraries, of necessity, be burned to the ground as a consequence. [William Carlos Williams, "Paterson"]
updated on October 10, 2017