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What swear words might have been commonly used in conversation (and, in particular, oral argument) in and around 1916, by literate men? As sources from the time are largely written, it is difficult to know whether they accurately reflect how people spoke or whether words that were used in conversation were considered unacceptable in print. I am writing a play set in 1916 in Dublin - the characters were well educated and travelled, so I think an answer appropriate to urban Britain will be equally appropriate to Dublin.

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  • You could probably get an idea from Sean O'Casey's work like Juno and the Paycock, which was written and set in Dublin in the early 1920s.
    – Andrew Leach
    Jun 22, 2015 at 15:48
  • Or even better, Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim, Two Boys, which takes place in a Dublin suburb in 1914–1916 (up to and during the Easter Rising) and includes very authentic, local vernacular from both poor, uneducated people, Catholic teacher-priests, and well-educated, upper-class intelligentsia characters. It’s also an absolutely fantastic book. Jun 22, 2015 at 15:52
  • Cheap literature published during that decade might also help, if you can find any. A good library might have some copies.
    – Centaurus
    Jun 22, 2015 at 15:53
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    @JanusBahsJacquet, as the above-linked Wikipedia article on O'Neill's 2001 book notes, the title alludes to Flann O'Brien's 1939 book At Swim-Two-Birds, which dates from closer to the period sought and has, I seem to recall, a fair scattering of imprecations. This is the work of which Dylan Thomas remarked "This is just the book to give your sister – if she's a loud, dirty, boozy girl" – which became the greatest jacket blurb ever. Jun 22, 2015 at 17:19
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    The single work which did most to establish the modern standard for frankness and verisimilitude in English dialogue is Joyce's Ulysses, written from 1914-1920 and set in Dublin on 16 June 1904. Jun 22, 2015 at 17:59

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I would expect vernacular Irish to be rather more 'colourful' than its English counterpart. Maybe RTE would have resources?

Censorship history might also be useful for evaluating contemporary texts.

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My father, who was born in 1898, was not given to swearing very much but he sometimes used the adjectives "damned", "blasted" and - a milder expletive - "dashed". Because he served in the trenches in WW I, I can presume that he knew others of a more sexual nature but did not use them within his young son's hearing.

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    You seem to have accidentally posted this twice; you should delete one of them. Jul 19, 2015 at 15:17
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My father was born in 1898, was well-educated and was on the route to Oxbridge until World War 1 intervened. He was not given to swearing very much but he sometimes used the adjectives "damned", "blasted" and - a milder expletive - "dashed". Because he served in the trenches in WW I, I can presume that he knew others of a more sexual nature but did not use them within his young son's hearing.

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