Bitch please! Fuck it, we’ll do it live! That’s Scott, he’s such a dick. Iconic cultural moments tend to come with a well crafted curse word. In Netflix’s History of Swear Words we take a profanely hysterical and historic look at the words we’re not supposed to say, and why we’re not supposed to say them.
Learning to curse can be a lifelong journey, from kids whispering words so adults can’t hear to shouting them out on the big screen à la Samuel L. Jackson. Turns out, some of our most colorful words have a colorful history, and there’s no one more colorful to guides us through our cursing history than Nicolas Cage.
He kinda sorta narrates the six episodes, each one tackling a different word. Nic is leaning into his brand of barely-hinged edginess. He drops F-bombs and P-bombs with an airy classiness that would make you move to another part of the room if someone was doing that in front of you at a party.
But his contributions aren’t the focus of show, the words are the stars. His vignettes are tightly scripted and well acted. You get just enough Cage to set the tone but don’t feel like you’ve been watching him be self-indulgent and overstay his welcome.
Education and cursing don’t usually go hand in hand unless you’re Cameron Diaz. But in History of Swear Words it’s key. The show brings in linguistic experts to guide us through the history of an individual word. Most times a word was just a word, and over centuries it took on a profane meaning only to lose its power later.
What keeps the show going is that the educators take their work seriously but not themselves. They all have a certain level of glee explaining the words we use and why. It’s kind of like seeing your senior year English teacher at a bar and realize they are smart and funny. And we aren’t lectured on every nuance from over the centuries. They give us bite-sized nuggets we can use to impress our friends at a cocktail party after we tell one of them to F-off.
Edginess is key in comedy, and swearing can add an edge. The show brings in several comedians (some, coincidentally, that have specials on Netflix) to curse up a storm, for the sake of education and entertainment.
They’re interspersed with the experts and Nic, giving the show the feel of VH1’s Best Week Ever, which was one of the best shows on basic cable back in the ’00s. They keep it lighter than Nic and complement the linguists. (If you think I’m gonna make a cunning-linguist joke here then you are sadly mistaken)
The episodes occasionally tangent from the word in question, exploring things like how cursing improves your health and increases your pain tolerance. These are facts that could have gone in any episode and producers clearly want to get in without dedicating too much time.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommedation
Premium cursing calls for a premium cocktail. Because each episode of History of Swear Words is a quick 20 minutes, I’m mixing up a Quick Fuck. With Kahlua, Midori, and Bailey’s, it may seem like a heavy mixture but is light and fun in the end.