The BBC has published a beautiful guide to “The Origins and Common Usage of British Swear-words”. It contains much valuable information that you can use in your everyday life.
For example, I’ve always wondered about the cockney phrase, “watcher cock”. Does it really mean “hello penis”? Apparently not:
'Wotcher cock' … comes from the term 'cock sparrow' (pronounced 'sparrah'). It is a general term for a man, although 'cock sparrow' was usually saved for small boys. It has been used for about 300 years.
The inventive cockneys also came up with “berk”:
The abusive term 'Berk' also derives from [cunt], being cockney rhyming slang, short for 'Berkshire Hunt'.
The explanation of “fuck” is too long to quote at length, but the fact that it hints at a Scandinavian origin does put the road signs in Sweden in a new light:
Bizarrely, 'fukt' means humidity in mainstream Swedish. There is a sign 20k from Stockholm's main airport which says 'tid 13.25' or whatever time it is that you drive past, 'temp -10°' or however cold it is, and 'fukt 76%', which is a useful statistic to know about the people in the country you are visiting. You can also buy 'Fukt Creme' in some shops in Sweden, although (disappointingly) this is a hand cream and not a lubricant.The origin of “git” is was another new one to me:
The word 'git' is connected with 'get' but in the sense of spawn or offspring, as in the old verb to beget, so your 'get' are your (probably illegitimate) offspring.
Finally, I do want a copy of this record:
In 1987, the American soul group The Tams had a Top 30 UK hit with a song called There Ain't Nothing Like Shaggin'. They were probably rather puzzled to hear that what they regarded as an innocent little ditty about a dance craze was having trouble getting airplay in Britain.
I have a few disagreements with the guide though. With regard to the term “sweet FA”, the explanation related to the murder of a child called Fanny Adams is one possible explanation, but I always thought it was just short for “sweet fuck all”.
Some of the origins seem to beg a further explanation:
A phrase that, until recently, was almost exclusively American, is 'mother-f****r'. Despite sounding very Oedipal, this does not have Freudian derivations. The word was apparently coined by African slaves to describe the slave owners who had raped the slave's mothers. Simple as that.
But is it? Why has has this word remained so popular in America? Is there any other slang where this rather objectionable word is as common as in American?
Still, despite these quibbles, them geezers at the Beeb done an effing good job, the flash buggers.