The History of Swear Words is a F**king Delight!
*maybe don’t read this review if you’re offended by swear words
Whether you like the content that Netflix Originals are bringing to the streaming service or not, it can’t be denied that some of the films and shows are unique. They shy away from what conventional TV makes and their latest mini-series is no fucking exception.
The History of Swear Words is a 6-episode Netflix Original series based around a taboo subject. Hosted by Nicolas Cage, each episode focuses on the origins, meanings and uses of a particular swear word, as well as looking at its uses in pop culture and media. While I’m not usually interested in documentaries, I will take an interest if it focuses on a weird, unique or niche topic, and this is definitely something unique. The series’ presents itself as a serious and straight-faced historical programme, like the film documentaries that would feature on the Sky Arts channel. But it’s also self-aware, so knows when to be humorous.
Each episode has a set structure: the start will focus on the history of the word, then the science of that word and why people say it, before branching down different pathways for the last 10-15 minutes. Some episodes feature the films and shows that have used the word to the max, one episode has a mini game where the guests featured will guess who used the word the greatest number of times in a film or show. The series also looks at the way in which the word is said, especially since language is continuously evolving. For example, Episodes 3 and 5 look at the various meanings and definitions of ‘b**ch’ and ‘pu**y’, and whether context is key when using this word. Both words now hold different meanings compared to when it was first used in the Middle Ages, when it only meant a female dog and a cat.
Nicolas Cage has been through a fantastic return recently: from Mandy, Color Out of Space, Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse to the upcoming mini-series based around the Tiger King himself, Joe Exotic. Cage is an actor who works best in absurd films that requires crazy and/or manic performances. And he does this well. However, like previously mentioned, this mini-series is straight-faced, so this casting shouldn’t work. And yet, he is magnificent in this, due to the dialogue, direction and unique topic. He brings a sense of elegance to the foul language, as well as the usual manic performance moments that we love to see so much from him. The guests that are featured are also fantastic and varied. Actors and comedians are interviewed as well as authors and professors. This gives the show an oddly educational feel and makes the usual offensive words feel more grounded and acceptable to discuss.
I did think that some episodes chose fairly tame words compared to other, more legitimate, words. Two episodes focus on words ‘D**k’ and ‘Damn’ which, in my opinion, are fair tamer compared to the other swear words in this series. However, this is subjective, and is something that the mini-series brings up: some people see some slurs and swear words as offensive, while others see them as mild. Historical context is also important, because ‘Damn’ is included here since it was considered a horrific curse word in the Middle Ages and is the only curse word that was used in the Bible.
A History of Swear Words is a fascinating and unique mini-series that focuses on something that otherwise could be seen as offensive. It gives the foul language space to be discussed in a grounded, but still hilarious, way. The guests that are featured come from various educational backgrounds, giving viewers an educated and interesting look into the origins of these words that we love to spew out. Nicolas Cage is a fantastic host and fully embraces the subject matter. And, even though he tones down his usual manic performance for this, there are still moments that allow him to fully express himself, which he does so with great delight. If you’re ok with foul language being used a lot, then this is a unique and interesting mini-series.