Historical novel, Historical research, Historiography, Industrial revolution, Library, Renaissance, Research, Research Tip, Victorian Era, Women, women's history

Curses Indeed!

Featuring The Encyclopedia of Swearing

Annie – my protagonist

It’s great when you’re writing and come up with just the right word or expression.

And being historically accurate makes your work more authoritative and trustworthy.

While working on my historical novel, set in 1800s Vancouver, I needed to find a few accurate expletives to come out of my protagonist, Annie’s mouth. She’s a factory girl and not shy about expressing her opinions!

I still haven’t found exactly what I’m looking for – namely – something like, “damn it” (or preferably stronger) – an expletive for her to say when something falls on her foot. Feel free to suggest something in the comments please!

I did a quick internet search and got a few ideas and then went onto our local library catalogue and found this amazing resource.

It’s called An Encyclopedia of Swearing: The Social History of Oaths, Profanity, Foul Language, and Ethnic Slurs in the English-Speaking World, by M.E. Sharpe

At the Vancouver Public Library (VPL), it’s an e-pub found by a catalogue search and available only to VPL library card holders. Call a librarian if you don’t find it in your own local library. It may be accessible differently than it is here.

I couldn’t see how to find an answer my question (the curse following the thing falling on her foot), but while scrolling around and trying out different things I tried out a search on the word “prostitute”.

Along with some historical and literary references, and bibliographic references, I got this list of words spanning the years 1100-2000.

1100whore
1200
1300strumpet, concubine, quean, common woman
1400harlot, slut, filth, mistress
1500drab, trull, mutton, cat, doxy
1600prostitute, moll, punk, doll, jade, hussy, trollop, gypsy, slattern
1700biddy, conveniency, bunter
1800fallen woman, hooker, blowen, streetwalker
1900broad, call girl, call boy, tramp, tart, lady of the night, hustler, slag
2000escort, sex worker

A few other terms in the table of contents of this encyclopedia include:

  • expletives – homosexuals 
  • ethnic slurs
  • etymology
  • piss
  • punk
  • shrew
  • soldiers and sailors slang
  • shit words
  • turd
  • twat 

and more….

There are entries for a few regional terms, including Scots, South African,and probably some more

And entries for a few historical periods including Renaissance and Victorian, and probably some more

Use the table of contents or do a search.

Just be careful if you do a search that you use the correct search field labed, “search within this publication”. Otherwise your search will bring up results from all the Gale online publications held by your library.

Another option is to use the “advanced search”

  • Enter “prostitution” as a keyword
  • Scroll down and enter the name of the publication
  • I entered “encyclopedia of swearing” and the full title was auto-filled
  • Scroll down
  • Press, search

I noticed that not every term gives a nice date-line table like the one that showed up on my search for Prostitute.


You can save your results on Google Drive, Cloud, and other platforms.


For academic works there are also options to put the citations into whatever citation protocol you’re using.

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