The spectrum of swearing is an unequivocally wondrous and expansive place in the English language, designed with the flair of spectacular creativity and mercilessness for all to enjoy.
Swearing is a linguistically fascinating manifestation of several factors including common sexual innuendos and the combination of plosive and fricative consonants that can make them so remarkably effective (the word “fuckwit”, for instance, contains the fricative “f” as well as the plosives “k” and “t”, making it particularly phonetically vicious and fun).
Swearing is fucking tight, but there’s more to your favourite zingers than you think. This report looks into the history of society’s many ‘bag’ insults.
Swearing is unquestionably defined by the culture of acceptability that surrounds it and common swear words generally have to ride an intermediate border of tolerability, which defines the swear as rude but doesn’t necessarily make the very fabric of society crumble under its weight.
For example, words such “fuck” and “shit” represent fornication and defecation, two concepts we can deal with like adults in a general sense. However, words representing the vagina are still perceived as too taboo to gain common usage. Excepting, of course, the vast Australian adoption for the word “cunt” as a friendly and indifferent word for “mate”.
Then again, we are the cultural descendants of exported criminals and have always been purposefully delinquent in that way.
A particularly interesting subset of swear words that have been readily adopted by our generation for reasons of censorship and cultural acceptability are terms with the suffix “bag”, which include a colourful array ranging all the way from “douchebag” to “shitbag”, “dirtbag”, “ratbag” and the particularly creative, “hoe-bag”.
In writing this, we have also just discovered that the word “douchebag” is officially in the Microsoft word dictionary, which I believe is great news for everybody. Most words with the “bag” suffix appeared at some point in the mid-20th Century, with words such as “douchebag” deriving from various points in the 1970s and 80s and terms such as “shitbag” and “dirtbag” gaining popularity from common military slang originally referring to the garbage collectors.
However, the spectrum of “bag” words are recognised as a deeply millennial verbal phenomenon, with integration into the popular vernacular only successfully taking hold in the late 90s.
This is related in part to the abstraction of the words from their original purpose – for example, douching as a practice doesn’t entirely require any kind of bag anymore so it’s not regarded as quite as graphic an image.
Similarly, the word “dirtbag” is no longer related to its original military coining, allowing for such iconic cultural moments as Wheatus’ 2000 hit Teenage Dirtbag, which I believe we can all agree was one of the greatest chapters of our pre-adolescent lives.
These words have also arguably become a staple of popular swearing vernacular due to their lack of political or social allusion. With the decline of homophobic, sexist and racist terms due to, you know, their overall offensive nature, political correctness has bizarrely come in to fashion the attractiveness of swear words such as “douchebag” or “dirtbag”.
They display freedom from the constraints of political correctness and media censorship guidelines on primetime television and mainstream radio. These words can be employed freely in music without the blanking, beeping, hushing or distortion that’s necessary for other terms.
The word “pussy”, for example, is largely distorted in hip-hop songs as played on the radio due to its sexist implications.
The word “douchebag” and its diminutive version, “douche”, are readily engaged on primetime television these days, with a 2009 study by the US Parents Television Council recording a 200% increase in the word’s frequency from 2008-2009 on primetime network television shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, The Vampire Diaries, and Law & Order.
Community’s creator, Dan Harmon, cites his enthusiasm for the work as a result of it’s appearance as a vulgar word but with benefit of social acceptability, “This is a word that has evolved in the last couple of years – a thing that sounds like a thing you can’t say”.
The “douchebag” is a particularly apt linguistic phenomenon because it has come to represent constructs of male vanity that we commonly recognise as distasteful and narcissistic; the word is synonymous with apparel such as Ed Hardy, muscle tees, ostentatious racing cars, and overly enthusiastic use of the word “bro”.
The suffix “bag” is thought to be offensive due to the labelling of an individual purely as a receptacle, commonly for semen (cum), faeces (shit), or garbage, with the implication that they’re not great use for anything else.
This has of course, been interpreted with fervour by people looking to further vulgarise the spectrum of “bag” swear words including “slut-bag” and the term “dick-bag” that we believe was derived from a particular Louis CK skit in which he was confusingly instructed by an angry driver to “Suck a bag of dicks”.
Of course, much like every other vaguely taboo term, these swear words will inevitably lose their zest with over-usage and unquestioning mainstream acceptability. After all, swear words are designed to challenge the status quo and once they fail to do this, they are determinably useless in their employ.
For the time being, however, they have come to represent a truly 2000s moment in the spotlight, a niche representing our profound Americanisation as well as a more civilised (and slightly oxymoronic) notion of swearing without particular offense.