We Did What?!
Offensive and Inappropriate Behavior in American History
by Timothy B. Jay, Editor
November 2016, 458pp, 7 x 10
1 volume, Greenwood

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-3772-2
$108, £84, 94€, A148
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-3773-9
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

The puritanical beliefs of early Americans continue to shape ideas of appropriate behavior today.

This provocative guide profiles behaviors considered shocking throughout American history, revealing the extent of changing social mores and cultural perceptions of appropriate conduct since the Colonial period.

The notion of what is offensive has evolved over time. But what factors dictate decorum and why does it change? This fascinating work delves into the history of “inappropriate” behavior in the United States, providing an in-depth look at what has been considered improper conduct throughout American history—and how it came to be deemed as such. The detailed narrative considers the impact of religion, sexuality, popular culture, technology, and politics on social graces, and it features more than 150 entries on topics considered taboo in American cultural history.

Organized alphabetically, topics include abortion, body odors, cannibalism, and voyeurism as well as modern-day examples like dumpster diving, breast feeding in public, and trolling. Each entry defines the behavior in question, provides an historical outline of the offensive behavior, and discusses its current status in American culture. Throughout the book, clear connections between offenses and social values illustrate the symbiotic relationship between popular opinion and acceptable behaviors of the time.


  • Identifies how social values have changed in American history
  • Provides comprehensive coverage of American society from Colonial America to present day
  • Reveals the fascinating—and controversial—backstories behind some of America's favorite brands
  • Examines more than 150 topics on behaviors once deemed "offensive" or "inappropriate," including birth control, dirty dancing, obscene literature and music lyrics, pornography, and prostitution
Timothy B. Jay, PhD, is professor of psychology at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA). His published works include Cursing in America; Why We Curse: A Neuro-Psycho-Social Theory of Speech; and The Psychology of Language. Jay received the G. Stanley Hall Award for excellence in undergraduate education from the American Psychological Association as well as numerous distinguished service awards at MCLA.
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