Mixing animation, interviews, and the eternal spark of Nicolas Cage, the workforce behind the present spent 2020 attempting to mirror a landmark 12 months in language historical past.
Odds are good that in case you checked out “History of Swear Words” throughout the final week, it was to see Nicolas Cage drop a number of of these phrases as solely he can. The Netflix present, hosted by Cage in his personal scholarly fireplace approach, takes viewers contained in the sudden etymologies behind a few of the English language’s most infamous corners.
However “rattling” is a comparatively delicate entry — in its present utilization — that exhibits not simply the total spectrum of how we view express language now, however how a lot it’s modified over many centuries.
“It’s actually the story of how one thing goes from being probably the most offensive factor you may presumably say, this biblical understanding of you actually damning somebody to hell, to being now pretty benign,” showrunner Bellamie Blackstone stated. “Once we actually dug into it, we realized how necessary it was for for us to speak in regards to the full lifecycle. Phrases like ‘fuck,’ which you continue to can’t essentially say on a number of TV, children who’re faculty age or youthful, don’t actually see it as that offensive. So after they turn out to be adults or grandparents, rapidly that language has shifted a lot in 20 or 30 years that possibly it’ll be considerably unrecognizable to us right now.”
One of many savviest tips of “Historical past of Swear Phrases” is together with comedians (together with Sarah Silverman, Joel Kim Booster, London Hughes, Patti Harrison, and DeRay Davis), linguistic consultants (together with former Merriam-Webster’s staffer and “Phrase by Phrase” creator Kory Stamper), and cultural critics (like present KCRW host Elvis Mitchell) alike with out getting too esoteric about how these phrases are used. The result’s an method to this historical past that boils down generations of context into accessible, 20-minute installments in a considerate approach.
It’s fascinating to see a few of these usages emerge and evolve naturally in eras the place the written phrase was scarce. One other key for “Historical past of Swear Phrases” is diving into the far newer previous to see how a few of these phrases have turn out to be phases for a extra lively linguistic battleground.
“It’s the top of emotion, each damaging and optimistic. It may be the top of protests. If you say ‘Fuck the police’ like that, I feel Zainab [Johnson] stated it finest: you say it as a result of there’s nothing else that you might presumably say that can get throughout that very same message in that second,” Blackstone stated. “If you have a look at a phrase like ‘bitch,’ which was had been used to degrade ladies for such a very long time, and then you definitely see communities of girls and different communities begin to actually embrace and reclaim the phrase you notice these phrases aren’t dangerous. There’s no ‘dangerous’ language. It’s about how you utilize it, how it may be highly effective, how it may be the precise proper factor to precise in a selected second. And it’s a must to have fun that now we have these phrases and that your mind does react to them in another way.”
“Historical past of Swear Phrases” is likely one of the first series-length tasks to be launched after being produced nearly solely in quarantine. With a cooperative workforce and a transparent plan, the present’s employees was capable of manage and movie all of those segments in order that the ultimate product didn’t really feel overly constrained by manufacturing wants. Even one thing as small as having Cage and Isiah Whitlock, Jr. stand up and stroll round their respective filming areas breaks up the Zoom field vitality that so many distant shoots and panels have taken on over the past 10 months.
“I don’t consider we actually compromised when it comes to what we wished the collection to be, which felt actually good,” government producer Brien Meagher stated. “We clearly adhered to each potential guideline regarding the security of not solely our crew, however the expertise themselves. The precise format itself, and honestly, the content material that we had been discussing through the pandemic, all form of got here collectively in a approach that that was form of serendipitous.”
It helped that the present had loads of popular culture historical past to attract on, too. From “Gone with the Wind” to John Hughes and Judd Apatow motion pictures, there’s a bevy of potential clips to assist spotlight how these phrases have shifted over time.
Perhaps probably the most purely entertaining elements of “Historical past of Swear Phrases” is the animated sequences that the present makes use of for the extra bygone historic examples.
“There was this theme by way of historical past of the written phrases and books. The thought was to have them type of come off the web page because the inspiration. So we went with a paper doll impact … an precise literal approach of incorporating literature and the written phrase into the animations themselves. There’s a number of texture to that. And massive heads are humorous,” Meagher stated.
In fact, Cage is his personal particular impact. From his check-ins alongside every phrase’s timeline to the road deliveries that solely he can ship (you’ll by no means hear the title “Twisted Sister” the identical approach once more), the host is the primary supply of electrical energy powering the present’s neon signal.
“You’d present him one thing and say, ‘Properly, that is simply going to be getting us from A to B,” and he would go, ‘OK. Maintain on.’ And he’d give it some thought, and then you definitely would simply see this second come to life,” Blackstone stated. “He has a extremely fascinating understanding of language and efficiency. Clearly it was Nic Cage, however it was Nic Cage 2.0. He introduced a lot to the undertaking, each in his perspective in addition to in his efficiency.”
For a present that finds historic parallels in sudden locations, it is sensible that this linguistic custom consists of comparable outsized personalities of the early twentieth century. “Historical past of Swear Phrases” explains how, within the early days of recorded music, nationwide touring exhibits pushed the boundaries of accepted speech. Seeing the comedians of right now react to these data is likely one of the excessive moments of the season.
“I come from a household of vaudeville performers, each my dad and my grandfather. So understanding that tradition and the way that’s been part of how language has advanced by way of, particularly by way of the ’20s and ’30s and 40s, I simply wished to get somewhat little bit of that in there,” Blackstone stated.
Although this season of “Historical past of Swear Phrases” takes on a few of the heavy hitters, Meagher insists that there’s a lot extra floor to cowl in a possible Season 2 and past.
“There’s a minimum of two extra seasons of simply common swear phrases. There’s some massive ones, just like the ‘c-word’ that we’re not even touching till till Season 2. After which I feel there’s an entire collection simply on UK variations of swear phrases, which make me giggle more durable than those that now we have right here stateside,” Meagher stated. “But additionally, I’ll go on TikTok, and I’ll see new swear phrases being created that I don’t even perceive but. I feel as this stuff change, we’re going to seek out stuff that’s extra offensive. And youthful generations are going to begin utilizing phrases in another way, which is able to hopefully assist the longevity of this present as a collection.”
“Historical past of Swear Phrases” is now out there to stream on Netflix.