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Your are correct, the origins are classist and elitist. Most words that are
thought of as "dirty" words (shit, fuck, damn, hell) are anglo saxon (and a
few other languages including Old Norse) in origin. Their counterparts which
are acceptable (defecate, urinate, etc.) are derived from the romance
languages. So, the vulgar tongue (anglo-saxon) gave us words that the
commoners spoke (they didn't speak French), and the elitist looked on those
words as "dirty," when, in fact, they are just words.
This is true, as far as it goes, except perhaps for the last sentence. It all
dates back to the Norman (French speakers) invasion of England in 1066. The
conquerers (from whom the whole lineage of Kings/Queens of England are
principally derived) did not know the Anglo-Saxon language, and the French
language dominated England's elite for many centuries.
There are lots of words in the English language that are Anglo-Saxon in origin
that are _not_ considered dirty ("dirty" itself is, not surprisingly, from the
French). This is because English evolved primarily from Anglo-Saxon, with
influences of other languages, particularly French. It's not surprising (at
least this is my surmise) that the commoners started to adopt "hoity-toity"
words from the French elite, and--sadly--began to consider words that were
about already disreputable things, vulgar. There are lots of perfectly
respectable subjects that have synonyms from many different origins. This is
one reason English is such a powerful and diverse language, and so much
great literature can be expressed in it.
We can also thank Shakespeare for introducing many words (most of them French
or other Romance language) into English--I can't remember the exact number I
saw cited, but I think it was around 1500 words personally introduced by
Shakespeare in his plays.
Just my two cents, Canadian--We had to learn all this in school. Did any of you
Americans on this list have to study English history in any detail? Just