To swear (paribhāsa or sapati) is to utter rude or insulting speech, usually when angry. The Buddha described such speech as ‘rough, cutting, bitter about others, abusive to others, provoking Anger, and disturbing the mind.’ (A.V,265). The Tipiṭaka offers plenty of evidence that swearing was as common at the time of The Buddha as it is today. Calling someone ‘Donkey!’ ‘Ox!’ or ‘Camel!’ was considered an insult (Vin.IV,12). Likewise to call someone ‘Shorty!’ or ‘Stretch!’ was considered rude too (Vin.IV,7). People cast aspersions on others by saying: ‘Your father and mother must be dead!’ (atumari matumari) or by calling them ‘the son of a childless mother!’ (puttamataya putta) and to call a woman a whore (bandhakini) was a common insult that could be taken very badly indeed (M.I,449; I,524; Vin.IV,24). Another expletive was ‘Deer shit!’ (Migalandika, Vin.III,68) A person’s color or social status could be disparaged or doubted and the ancients had no compulsions about doing so. The various Ascetics, priests and Monks were very good at exchanging insults and ‘stabbing each other with verbal daggers’ too (M.I,320).
Brahmins often referred to The Buddha’s ordained disciples as ‘shaven menial Monks’ (D.I,90), or ‘the scrapings of our kinsmen’s foot’ (bandhupadāpaccā, D.I,90). Once some Brahmins who had become Monks commented to The Buddha that their fellow Brahmins ‘revile and abuse us. They do not hold back with their usual flood of insults.’ (D.III,80). The Tipiṭaka only gives a few examples of a physical gesture that might accompany swearing and verbal abuse, e.g. to snap your fingers at them (D.II,96). Apparently shaking your head, sticking your tongue out and and waggling it after someone had told you something was a way of saying: ‘You’re talking nonsense.’ (M.I,109) Swearing and verbal abuse are a type of harsh speech (pharusāvācā) and contrary to Right Speech, one of the steps on the Noble Eightfold Path (D.I,4). The Buddha said that one practicing the Dhamma would ‘speak words that are blamless, pleasant, easy on the ear, agreeable, going to the Heart, urbane, pleasing and liked by everybody.’ (D.I,4).