Monday, 10 December 2007


This posting is not my fault. It was suggested by Debi Cates who wanted to know some of the English nuances of swearing (lol).

We are probably quite good at swearing because of our AngloSaxon ancestry, which contains many fruity swearwords which have filtered down. Some of these have completely changed in their strength of meaning, and, as pointed out by Frances, it's all to do with context. The rudest AngloSaxon word of all is used quite freely and affectionately in Chaucer's medieval The Miller's Tale', but now it is highly insulting. Maybe this has something to do with the way that women are viewed and maybe now they have got more power they are seen as more of a threat, so such words are perhaps used highly aggressively now to put them in their place.

As for the second rudest, it is often used round where I live as a form of punctuation, so has lost all it's power to shock, at least in certain circles. As a result it is often seen as quite humorous, and I am reminded of a scene in the English film 'Four Weddings and A Funeral' where this word is said at least fifty times in the first five minutes, to great humorous effect in a mainstream comedy.

I am aware of American swearwords from watching films and I think Debi is right in that it is all or nothing. For instance, if you add the second rudest swearword and add 'Mother' to it, I think that is pretty strong, but you don't get that much round here. And you don't hear it much from Eddie Murphy now he has got into 'Shrek', I notice.

Here are some quite nice swear words which perhaps make for the acceptable middle way of English swearing- 'bloomin' (I say this a lot), 'b*gg*r' (which has a pleasing upper class and civilised connotation to it), 'bl**dy', 'd**n', 'sugar'(a sweet way of saying the other one), 'dash it', 'crumbs', 'flippin' heck', 'goodness me', 'gracious', 'gosh', 'golly' and 'bally'. Looking at these words, I think it is probably a class thing, as they are euphemistic versions of the ones you hear on the street, more suitable for civilised company. So I think we have more nuances in swearing because we have more of complex class structure still.


Bobbie said...

Just what makes a swear word anyhow? If someone says bl**dy it doesn't offend my sensibilities at all yet if they say the 4-letter word...... Colo{ur]ful words has been quite a challenge in more ways than one and as an observer I have thoroughly enjoyed it :)

Neda said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed this post :) ..Insults in French are worse and don't get me started about the very spicy Arabic ones I know. Thanks for the mini-lesson, luv!

Debi said...

LOL, Bev. You took the bait and I am so bloomin' pleased you did.

You are quite the clever one, too, to somehow not say the worst words but made it clear which ones they are.

I had to go through each of the milder ones and say them out loud. I was trying them on for size. I need more cuss words that aren't cuss words, you see. My life demands it.

Bally! has a nice ring to it. I could even say "B*gg*r Bally" or perhaps "Bally B*gg*r" but only for worst case scenarios.

I had a friend once who would say -- when she really, really, really wanted to cuss -- "Well, isn't that just great gobs of goose guts." It has a remedial effect. Try it.

Thank you for this post, Bev! I loved it!

dianeclancy said...

Hi Beverly,

This is a great post!! I may have to go look up Chaucer and reread it. I think I might remember that it might be one of 2 words ... both involving a windowsill ... but that was decades ago!

Wonderful writing! I think so much has to do with tone and intent too.

~ Diane Clancy

Bev said...

Diane, I did 'The Miller's Tale' for A level, so know it quite well. I think the windowsill incident involves the phrases 'let flee a f**t', which I had to learn for one of my quotes for exam essays, funnily enough. It's all baudy good fun.

Frances said...

Nice one Bev. I haven't got around to it myself, and as my sister is arriving for a few days tomorrow, I think it will have to wait till next week. Chaucer is a good source of rudery, Shakespeare is a very good source of double-meanings and sugestiveness - I'll get my family thinking about it for Debi's sake.
It is interesting that our rudest one is commonly used by girls nowadays - My daughter got into trouble for using it in writing at school and asked me why it was offensive - I found it difficult to explain. It is perfectly acceptable normal usage in French for a mild expletive and is a major part of Arabic swearing.

Lisa Sarsfield said...

Great post bev! Well thought out and written!
I think I should be getting the bar of soap ready for my mouth however...LOL
I think you made a good point about different sectors of society and the level or type of swearing. On the way to see the bank manager today I heard a tradesman say "F**K" rather loudly and didn't bat an eyelid- just wondered what he was F'n about. If the bank manager had said that however I would have been unimpressed!
Thanks for a great post!

Bev said...

Frances, I like your daughter's attitude! Sort of reclaiming the rudest word, as black people( a lot of comics I notice from watching the world's greatest comedian show on Saturday night) have been trying to reclaiming the most offensive word in the world, and gays have been trying to do with other assorted insults.

Debi said...

Frances, I had to laugh. I like it that you are getting your family to think about "rudery" for my sake. I'm honored! And I can't wait to see what you come up with.

P.S. Hi Bev. Sorry to use your blog to respond to Frances.