From Middle English sweren, swerien, from Old English swerian (“to swear, take an oath of office”), from Proto-West Germanic *swarjan, from Proto-Germanic *swarjaną (“to speak, swear”), from Proto-Indo-European *swer- (“to speak, talk”).
Cognate with West Frisian swarre (“to swear”), Saterland Frisian swera (“to swear”), Dutch zweren (“to swear, vow”), Low German swören (“to swear”), sweren, German schwören (“to swear”), Danish sværge, Swedish svära (“to swear”), Icelandic sverja (“to swear”). Also cognate to Albanian var (“to hang, consider, to depend from”) through Proto-Indo-European.
The original sense in all Germanic languages is “to take an oath”. The sense “to use bad language” developed in Middle English and is based on the Christian prohibition against swearing in general (cf. Matthew 5:33-37) and invoking God’s name in particular (i.e. frequent swearing was considered similar to the use of obscene words).
- (transitive, intransitive) To take an oath, to promise.
- 1920, Mary Roberts Rinehart; Avery Hopwood, chapter I, in The Bat: A Novel from the Play (Dell Book; 241), New York, N.Y.: Dell Publishing Company, OCLC 20230794, page 01:
- The Bat—they called him the Bat. […]. He'd never been in stir, the bulls had never mugged him, he didn't run with a mob, he played a lone hand, and fenced his stuff so that even the fence couldn't swear he knew his face.
- (transitive, intransitive) To use offensive, profane, or obscene language.
- 1956, Anthony Burgess, Time for a Tiger (The Malayan Trilogy), published 1972, page 38:
- An Australian was once appointed on contract, but he swore too much.
- In sense 1, this is a catenative verb that takes the to infinitive. See Appendix:English catenative verbs
- The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.
swear (plural swears)
- A swear word.
From Middle English swere, swer, swar, from Old English swǣr, swār (“heavy, heavy as a burden, of great weight, oppressive, grievous, painful, unpleasant, sad, feeling or expressing grief, grave, slow, dull, sluggish, slothful, indolent, inactive from weakness, enfeebled, weak”), from Proto-West Germanic *swār, from Proto-Germanic *swēraz (“heavy”), from Proto-Indo-European *swēr- (“heavy”).
Cognate with West Frisian swier (“heavy”), Dutch zwaar (“heavy, hard, difficult”), German schwer (“heavy, hard, difficult”), Swedish svår (“heavy, hard, severe”), Latin sērius (“earnest, grave, solemn, serious”) and Albanian varrë (“wound, plague”).
- (Britain dialectal) Heavy.
- (Britain dialectal) Top-heavy; too high.
- (Britain dialectal) Dull; heavy; lazy; slow; reluctant; unwilling.
- (Britain dialectal) Niggardly.
- (Britain dialectal) A lazy time; a short rest during working hours (especially field labour); a siesta.
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