I'm putting the content of this post behind a cutaway. It's about something funny I noticed searching for dirty words on the Google Ngram Viewer, which activity was prompted by the latest comic at XKCD. I will be using all of these words; I don't normally self-edit for profanity on this blog, but the relatively high concentration does deserve some sort of warning I suppose.
This is part of the search I ran. I was looking for correlations with these and other foul words, some of which I thought were archaic but really never were very popular at all it seems (if you wanted to insult someone, I guess you'd probably have told them what you really thought about them).
As you'd expect, there was a sharp rise in publication of dirty words in general in the 20th century; "bitch" being a common, non-dirty word for general use at the time saw a good bit of regular use, but it wasn't until the rise of profanity in general that it got its big break.
The real story here is "fuck" and the crazy fact that prior to 1820, it was (a) in use and (b) at one point at modern usage levels. What, may I ask, the fuck is up with that shit?
Well the answer is kind of boring. Ngram lets you search the relevant books in different time periods, and not terribly surprisingly, the search results are an error; an electronic transcription error, actually.
If you've seen a lot of old signs and documents, such as our constitution and bill of rights, you've seen the problem. At one point in the distant past, it was common practice to write your S a bit longer, extending below the line and above the lower case. It looked, in fact, like an italicized f, and was sometimes even crossed like an f. For type, much like U's looked like V's, the S looked like an f - without a cross to the right, but these old books were never in such great condition to begin with. So when Google scanned in thousands of old books, the computers saw a lot of F's and very few S's. (here's a really clear illustration)
As the blog LOL Manuscripts can tell you, the old fashioned Long S is a constant and eternal source of very nerdy snorts and giggles. Oh, anyone would laugh, sure, but only nerds ever encounter the long S. And only geeky nerds like me look it up in the Character Map so that we can type out "ſuck" properly. Here'ſ hoping it ſhowſ up properly on your ſcreenſ too!