In this article, you'll learn some of the most common curse words in English as well as when they're appropriate to use and when they're not.
Curse words; they're like the forbidden fruit. We all want to learn them when studying a new language, but we're not supposed to use them. Or are we?
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Curse words... everyone's favorite naughty thing to ask about when learning a new language. We've all done it, right? You meet someone from another country and ask them to teach you a curse word in their language. Learning English's no different, especially because we've got some real stingers.
Curse words get a bad rep, but times have changed, and it's not always frowned upon to use them nowadays. In fact, it's pretty common to hear them in friendship groups, within family dynamics, and even in the workplace.
Yes, I know that last one is surprising, and while I'm not recommending you call your boss a 'wanker,' there are some curse words that are pretty soft that you can probably get away with.
In an interesting article on dictionary.com, Ashley Austrew notes:
Attitudes about swearing have also shifted in the recent years. A 2016 poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that one in four US adults uses fuck daily. They also found that the number of people who use the word several times per day has doubled in the past decade. A 2017 review of American literature, meanwhile, found that instances of fuck in novels increased 168-fold from the early 1950s to the mid-2000s. Similarly, shit is found in books 69 times more often than in the 1950s, and motherfucker, an astonishing 678 times more frequently.
If you're thinking of swearing, it's really up to you to determine if it's appropriate, and that's something you learn over time. Before you start swearing like a sailor, spend some time listening to how others are talking and what kinds of words they are using. This will help you know what people consider to be the norm in that particular context.
Here are some curse words I've heard spoken in the workplace:
Curse words aren't necessarily used as an insult. Yes, cursing can be used as bad words to call someone, but it can also communicate sarcasm, humor, surprise, shock, and so many other things. So if your friend tells you to 'fuck off,' don't automatically assume you've overstayed your welcome and need to leave now.
If someone's used a curse word directed at you and you're not sure how you should take it, your best bet is to look at the context. Yes, context is everything. You see, when learning a new language, there are two things to take into account.
What was the speaker's body language like? Were they smiling, or did they look angry? How were their intonation and volume? What did you say before (what were they responding to)? Let's take the word 'fuck' as an example.
Here are several contexts where they mean completely different things:
I know you asked me not to come tonight but here I am.
I want you to fuck off.
This is serious. The person really wants you to leave.
I got accepted onto the exchange program; I'm moving to Australia!
The person thinks this is great news and is excited for you.
They got back together.
The person is shocked and unsure whether you're serious or making a joke.
Now we've established that attitudes towards swearing have shifted in recent years and that cursing at someone doesn't always mean you're insulting them, let's go over some of the most common curse words.
We have to begin with the most obvious (and possibly the most used) curse word in English: fuck. And while some curse words are more prevalent in some English-speaking countries than others, 'fuck' is pretty universal and enjoyed the world over. One of its strong points? It's extremely versatile.
Here are just a few of the things it can express:
The list goes on. You can also pair the word with others to create new meanings that can be used as insults, like 'fuck off,'' 'motherfucker' or 'fuckface'. If someone has directed these words toward you, they could either be insulting you or joking around with you. Only you can know this.
This can be used as an expression of surprise or anger or an insult directed at someone. When it's the former, it could be literal or as a joke or sign of affection.
Son of a bitch they really screwed us.
You son of a bitch, how could you do that to me?
You son of a bitch, you bought me a house?
'Ass' is slang for 'bottom' or is an insult to talk about someone who is rude or generally unlikeable. Derivatives include 'asshole,' 'dumbass,' 'kiss my ass,' and 'jackass.'
My new boss is such an ass.
Sit your ass down.
Stop being such a jackass!
'Shit' is another common curse word, just as common as 'fuck,' probably. In fact, it's used in many of the same circumstances and taken to mean a lot of the same things. Mostly it means 'poo,' 'damn,' or 'bad.' It's a little less offensive than 'fuck' and can be acceptable in more situations.
Shit, I printed the wrong document.
You're a shit friend.
Your dog's shitting on the pavement.
Then you've got derivatives of the word 'shit' such as 'bullshit,' which means 'a lie,' and 'shitfaced,' which means 'drunk.'
There are also many other insults that incorporate the word 'shit.'
Here are some of my personal favorites:
A 'dick' is a vulgar way to refer to a penis, but it's also used as an insult.
Someone who is a dick is unpleasant and generally unliked. It's different being called a 'dick' and being told you're acting like a 'dick.' If a lot of people tell you you're a dick you should probably take a long hard look in the mirror. If someone tells you to stop 'acting like a dick' then you might have done something to upset them.
Or, perhaps, you're joking around and trying to cheer them up by teasing them. If they know you're kidding and they jokingly say, "You're a dick," then it's all in good humor, and you don't need to worry.
'Dickhead', 'dickwod,' 'dickbag', and 'dickweasel' are just the insults containing the word 'dick.'
'Douche' is generally not a word you want to hear referring to you. It means you're annoying, a show-off, or a generally unpleasant person.
Some creative derivates of this word include 'douchebag' and 'douchenozzle.'
A 'bastard' is someone who cares only about themselves, won't hesitate to step on others to get to the top, and is generally just a douchebag.
While this is often used as an insult, just like many other curse words, it can also be used jokingly. So be sure to observe all the other cues to make sure you're interpreting them right.
Sam, you bastard, haha!
I can't believe he screwed me over again. What a bastard.
'Bitch' has historically been a curse word directed at a woman for being spiteful or unpleasant. Nowadays, it's seen as very sexist and mostly a way to put a woman down for having a backbone.
The best way to use it is as a synonym of 'tough' or 'complain:'
I've had a bitch of a week I tell ya.
It's good to have a little bitch and a moan every now and then.
Will you stop bitching about everyone?
Originally meant as a slang word for a vulva, 'cunt' is considered a highly offensive word and is high on the inappropriate list. If using it as a curse word, be careful who you use this one around. Keep it for your worst enemy or if you're joking around with friends.
That guy is such a cunt.
Many women are reclaiming the word and using it as originally intended as a way to disassociate it from its negative connotations as an insult.
'Wanker' is more popular in the UK and has humorous connotations. As an insult, it's used towards someone who is a bit of an asshole or a douchebag. But it can also be used as a joke among friends.
Pete, you wanker, you really got me!
'Crap' is the equivalent of 'shit' and is very mild, so it's safer for the office and other situations where you don't want to risk rocking the boat.
Oh crap, I sent the email to the entire office.
So there you have it. Curse words, while sometimes offensive, can also be a creative way to use language and communicate your feelings. Let's summarize what we've learned:
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