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21 September 2014
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Wash your mouth out!
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Has swearing lost its power to outrage?


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

Is swearing on the increase?

"In 1649 the British parliament introduced the death penalty for swearing at one's parents, a statute which, were it revived today, would wipe out an entire generation." - Stephen Burgen (1996)
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play audio Listen to nurses in Newport discuss when to swear - and when not to. More...
Most complaints about 'too much swearing' pertain to what linguists call 'auxiliary' swearing; that is, liberally sprinkling your speech with meaningless swear words. ("So I had to go and bloody pick up all those bloody boxes in my bloody car, which was a bloody pain in the neck...") Talking like this gives your speech a certain style, which is appropriate in some situations, but not in others.

Swearing - and particularly 'auxiliary' swearing - is a useful social tool. Swearing with friends is virtually compulsory within certain social circles. Since swearing is indicative of informal situations, it can also be a way of 'bonding' with your social group, showing that you're relaxed in their presence (even if you're not).
Swearing with friends is virtually compulsory within certain social circles.
Swearing can help maintain a kind of camaraderie - and make non-swearers feel they're not part of the group.

If this kind of swearing is increasing, then perhaps that's simply because informality and 'mateyness' are spreading. A few decades ago, for instance, work colleagues would not have called each other by their first name, yet this is common practice nowadays. Similarly, friendliness and accessibility are now more usual on radio and TV than authority and gravitas. With more reason to swear, it's not surprising that swearing is on the increase.

Find out more
Has swearing lost its power to outrage? - BBC News item, with comments from a wide range of people, including Bernard Manning and the Bishop of Fulham.

What are your views about swearing? Let us know on our comments board.

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