History of Swear Words

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Nicolas Cage as himself in History of Swear Word. (Photo: Adam Rose / Netflix)
Nicolas Cage as himself in History of Swear Word. (Photo: Adam Rose / Netflix)


4/5 Stars


An education in expletives: the history lesson you didn’t know you needed. History of Swear Words, hosted by Nicolas Cage, is a loud and proudly profane series that explores the origins, pop culture-usage, science and cultural impact of curse words.

WHAT WE THOUGHT: (Contains, well, swear words)

I have what my mom would call a 'potty mouth' - my speech is normally riddled with the punch of a well-placed f- and sh-word. And few things are as expressive as Afrikaans swearing, even if you’re not fluent in the language. But have you ever wondered why certain words became such provocateurs of the English language?

Well, know you can find out with the delightful frivolity of Netflix’s new comedy series History of Swear Words, hosted by one of the kings of swear words Nicholas Cage. An almost near-perfect host (I am sure Samuel L. Jackson just wasn’t available), he takes viewers on a journey into the lexicon of the six biggest and oldest swear words in the English language, how they morphed through the ages of censorship and protest and what they mean to people in modern society. Cage is flanked by comedians - the proverbial gatekeepers of swearing for laughs - and actual experts on language, expletives and its impact on the human brain. 

It’s shallow, stupid and hilarious - a perfect watch for zoning out for a short time, similar to Funny or Die skits and Drunk History. It doesn’t pretend to be some grand social commentary on censorship and the changing meaning of language, although there are some interesting points made.

I especially liked the one on "bitch" - a loaded swear word that men should never say about women but that has become part of the feminist lexicon for reclaiming power. Then you have "damn", a word I and many people no longer really consider a bad word, but is actually the only swear word that’s an actual curse that originated from the bible. While you will laugh a lot, there are still some fun things to learn about your go-to swear word for stubbing your toe. 

Cage though is really the key driving force behind this whole expedition into the obscene. Despite appearing slightly hammered or even maybe high, he gives his all for these swear words, birthing them into the world with impeccable timing that will leave you rolling. It’s definitely not high-brow humour, but he does his lines as if he’s quoting Shakespeare. Say what you want about his acting and bizarre bad movie choices (I am still haunted by Season of the Witch), no one can deny his marvellous monologue skills. The History of Swear Words is once again another baffling addition to the debate over whether Cage is a terrible or genius actor. 

As for the comedian commentators, I did not really recognise anyone except for Sarah Silverman. While many of them were great, I do think the show would have benefited from bigger names, and if they could get Cage on board I’m sure they could have gone higher (although the budget was probably all spent on the salacious host). The experts were also a bit dull at times, though academics do tend to be blander, and it was also so funny to see authorities on expletives blush at saying the actual subjects they specialise in. 

History of Swear Words is silly, funny and is exactly as it says on the box. No one going into watching a show hosted by Cage expecting it to be a serious debate on the merits of swear words, and if you go in with that mindset, you’ll enjoy a few laughs while cursing along the way. As they say in the show, swearing is good for the brain and in relieving pain, so it might just be the best medicine for a bad mood. 

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE: (Again, definitely contains swear words)


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