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2 September 2014
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Wash your mouth out!
What you think of swearing
"I think that swearing has a time and a place, like everything else. My father doesn't mind me swearing in front of friends, but my mother does. As long as I don't swear at school, or in front of teachers, it's alright. Some people just swear to try to act cool, so it is definatly on the increase."
Jade Conway, Shropshire
Elsewhere on BBCi
Has swearing lost its power to outrage?


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Page 1 of 3
What makes an insult insulting?
Does swearing demonstrate a poor command of English?
Is swearing on the increase?

What makes an insult insulting? by Philippa Law

Insults vary from language to language and culture to culture. The word for 'cuckold', for instance, is a terrible insult in Italian, but nonsense in Swedish.

Insults also change through time. An old insult in Icelandic is to call someone a 'cod', but few Icelanders would take it seriously now. Similarly, some young Icelandic people insult their friends by calling them 'jam' - but older people wouldn't know what on earth they were talking about.

table top
play audio Listen to this feature on what makes these little words so powerful? Viv Perry investigates

Like other 'naughty' words, there are plenty of insults in European languages that involve tabooed parts of the body, sex, incest and dirt. But in addition to these, lots of insults use the names of animals - which are otherwise perfectly acceptable words.

The big question is: why might you call someone a 'pig' or a 'cow', but not a 'polar bear' or a 'kangaroo'? The short answer is: we don't know.

Lots of insults use the names of animals - which are otherwise perfectly acceptable words

Some linguists refer to the anthropologist Edmund Leach, who published his ideas on animal insults in 1964. He identified the animals used as usually being:

Animals which, in that culture, fall in-between the categories of edibility and non-edibility (e.g. animals that taste nice, but could also be pets)

Animals which, in that culture, are considered 'close' to humans in some way (i.e. are in between humans and animals).

Others have suggested that animal insults are muddled up with folklore and metaphor (e.g. sheep follow each other in herds; pigs are assumed to be dirty).

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Your Comments
Jackie, Roundshaw
In reply to Denise Troussaint of East Croydon, the 157 does not go "through Roundshaw Estate", it goes along Stafford Road from Crystal Palace to Morden, and the worst swearing |have heard on that bus came from 2 girls from the Catholic School in Carshalton!

Dave Thorpe, Cambridge
Would you say, "How do you do" to your best friend? Would you say, "All right mate - how's it going?" to your bank manager? No, I doubt it. It's all about register, or rather, the context/situation you find yourselves in. Of course it's fine for me to say to my best mate, " I got f***ing drunk last night" but not, for example, in front of his mother. The problem is, people tend to swear WHEREVER they are, regardless who is around them. I use all the swear words under the sun, but not in every situation. Respect others!

laura, southampton
I think swearings actually just as much a part of the english language as words like tree and cheese! I dont get whats wrong with it. Sometimes you need to use swearwords to express yourself properly.

laura from southampton
i dont get whats wrong with swearing - there just words. fair enough if your using them to insult someone or something (like calling someone a d**khead) but if you just using them in a sentence whats the problem? i actually dont get it. If your angry whats wrong with saying your f***ing p***ed off? how is that worse than saying your very angry? Why would you be offended by someone swearing?

Joan from Ohio, USA
The idea that one chooses to use "bad words" is foreign to me. If I utter a "swear word", it is never voluntary. For me, they are words that fly out of my mouth when I am suddenly hurt, angered, dismayed, etc. It always an emotional outburst of some kind, and if anyone else hears it, I regret it.

Find more of your thoughts here.





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