Netflix’s History of Swear Words Review: A refreshing and surprisingly insightful look into swear words
Kicking off 2021 on a bit of different note, Netflix provides a funny and thought-provoking history lesson in swear words that’s an absolute delight to watch.
Honestly, when History of Swear Words was initially announced, it instantly piqued my interest. I mean, come on, how could a series delving into the history and use of swear words used on a daily basis not be instantly compelling to just about anyone. With it being a comedy series mixed with some educational history, Netflix had the potential for a series reminiscent of Comedy Central’s Drunk History and MTV’s Guy/Girl Code of their own. Add in the fact that they got Nicolas Cage to host and there’s certainly a recipe for greatness in store. On paper, it’s legitimately one of the best series concepts I’ve heard of and in practice, it actually works for an incredibly engaging and intriguing watch.
Throughout six twenty-minute episode, comedians, linguists, researchers, and a very classy looking Cage come together to delve into the history, meaning, use, and impact of different swear words – specifically fuck, shit, bitch, dick, pussy, and damn. After the first episode delving into the role that “fuck” has played in our society and the power that swear words even hold as a whole, including allowing our bodies to deal with pain longer and relieve stress better, it was worrisome that this series was going to seem a little too formulaic. With it having pretty standard segments and conversations about the impact that the word fuck has had in society, movies, and even protest, which was pretty cool, it’s easy to believe that the other episodes would just follow suit. However, each word sort of gets its own story that’s refreshing and offers a new perspective on swear words that’s both entertaining and insightful.
The series presents interesting origins for these words ranging from bitch’s original dictionary definition referring to a female dog to the word shit stemming from medieval times. The way the series creates a timeline that showcases the way the words have changed from being seen as common definitions for things to becoming profanity is pretty fascinating and it’s great how they delve into the power that words have. Things like how pornography and hip-hop music played a major role in making pussy well-known, the obstacles that Gone with the Wind faced in being the first movie to use the word damn in a film, and even the role bitch has played in damaging women is very compelling. The episodes on pussy and bitch are especially compelling with how they are actually being taken back by women in a similar vein to how queer is being taken back by the LGBT community as a means to empower. It’s a legitimately fascinating look at a part of people’s daily living that’s often seen as too taboo and profane to really look at and provides a wide range of thought-provoking views and history that’s made incredibly enjoyable to watch with how the series is put together.
With the episodes only being twenty minutes long, the series definitely tries to throw as much information at you as possible, but it’s made very digestible with its pace and structure. For a series about swear words, it’s surprising how well the series is at structuring its discussions to create an easy through line for viewers to follow. It’s probably one of the easiest watches viewers will have with how engaging it is and it easily finds time to entertain with the great personalities and experts it brings to talk about swearing. Comedians Sarah Silverman, Nikki Glaser, and London Hughes easily kill in delivering their takes on swear words and while Samuel L. Jackson sadly couldn’t make it to deliver his take on fuck, Isaih Whitlock Jr. does come to talk about shit and it’s pretty incredible. It’s even impressive to see the series splice in movie clips in a very organic way that continues the discussion’s momentum and touch on offshoots of words like “goddamn” and “motherfucker” as well as modern incarnations of swear words like “MILF.” Don’t get me wrong, the series isn’t as funny as Drunk History or Guy/Girl Code, but it finds time to inject some delightful comedy in between its insights – especially when it comes to Cage as the host.
Frankly, I’ve never seen such perfect casting like Cage as the Host as he really gives it all in providing hilarious and strong narration throughout the episodes. From his opening monologue of delivering iconic movie lines featuring the word “fuck” to despising the dumb alternatives to what almost replaced damn in Gone with the Wind, Cage’s odd line delivery and very erratic performance create the perfect kind of host for delving into the history of swearing. It’s hard to imagine any viewer not loving everything he brings here and he’s truly a scene stealer.
Netflix really strikes some gold with History of Swear Words as it delivers some insightful thought into the power and impact of swear words through an incredibly easy binge that will open your mind and make you laugh. It also opens the door for the series is possibly explore more in future, which would be awesome to see – especially if Cage returns to host.