Netflix’s History Of Swear Words is an amusing, brief and ultimately underwhelming docu-series diving into the origin for some of our most commonly used curse words. With bitesize 20 minute episodes, History Of Swear Words skims the surface over some of the more intriguing and interesting historical uses of the word, leaving Nicolas Cage and a host of so-so comedians to do the heavy lifting for much of the show.
Each episode begins with narration from Nicolas Cage himself. Dressed in a suit and parading elegantly around a makeshift lounge, he discusses the origins of each curse word discussed before we dive into the heart of these words.
Essentially, each episode is broken up into three distinct sections. The first, is a very brief history lesson looking at the chosen word’s origin. From here, we then move forward to its lexical use and evolution over time with interjections from historians and etymologists drowned out by one-liners from a range of different comedians.
The final part of the show then settles on the social and political impact said word has had in film, TV and radio. The real irony here is that while a number of stand up comedians show up, none actually discuss their own art-form and the evolution of curse words. There’s no mention of George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce or even the outrageous exploits of Frankie Boyle in more modern times.
After watching all 6 episodes of History of Swear Words you’ll undoubtedly feel like you’ve missed a lot of information and, like me, will probably find yourself diving into Wikipedia and searching through the history of each word. Given the amount of content and material there is to work with, Netflix’s 20 minute segments are way too short to really dive in and make use of its set-up.
In fact, the F*ck episode in particular reminded me of an old audio sketch called the “Usage Of The Word F*ck” which ironically does a better job of fleshing out the word than this televised episode does.
To be fair though, the balance between comedians and etymologists is actually quite good and you can tell everyone is having a good time with this series. The comic choice is more an acquired taste but Nicolas Cage is in his element, throwing in a couple of funny self-aware jabs throughout the episodes too.
There’s a wide variety of comics from across the globe here though, ranging from English, US and even Australian names. And that leads very nicely to one of the glaring omissions in this series – the word “C*nt”. Heavily regarded as one of the most offensive and taboo words, this would have been prime material for this show to dive into and discuss. Alas, that’s not the case here.
If you’re looking for a brief, bitesize docu-series to amuse and entertain, History Of Swear Words is a fun and forgettable show that just about misses the mark on being a more engaging and entertaining watch. The episodes are crying out for an extra 15 minutes or so to really dive into the origins.
Still, there’s an undeniable charm with parts of this show and when History of Swear Words shines, it really f*cking shines. It’s just a damn shame that those moments are very few and far between.