Bloody Shame.

Caroline Davies reports for the Guardian:

So it’s farewell to bloody Nora. The f-word has become Britain’s most popular swearword, overtaking “bloody”, as the nation’s use of expletives has dropped over the past two decades, a linguistics study has found. Data on the use of 16 swearwords in the 1990s and the 2010s shows the f-word was the most frequently used, taking the title from “bloody” which was beaten into third place by “shit”.

The study, by Dr Robbie Love at Aston University, found there was a 27% drop in swearing in Britain over the 20-year period, down from 1,822 to 1,320 swearwords per million. Men still swear more than women, and swearing still peaks in people’s 20s and declines thereafter, Love found.

His study, published in Text & Talk: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies, analysed transcribed spoken conversations that took place in 1994 and in 2014 and looked at changing preferences for the 16 swearwords. “Bloody” saw an 80% fall in popularity in the 20 years leading up to 2014, accounting for just 128 words per million. The word “fuck” was said slightly less, down to 542 from 564 words per million. “Shit” almost doubled in usage during the two decades, reaching 326 words per million in 2014. […]

Love, an English language lecturer, told the Guardian: “Overall the data suggests that while swearing occurrence in casual British English speech is still within an expected range, it is lower than it was in the 1990s. It’s hard to say exactly why this appears to be the case – it may be due to shifts in what we consider to count as swearing, or that speakers perform the functions of swearing using other words that might not be considered to be taboo.

See the link for further details of this sad decline. Thanks, Trevor!


  1. David Eddyshaw says

    Effings ain’t wot they used ter be.

  2. Drat!

    Bloody American cultural hegemony.

  3. J.W. Brewer says

    Brexit may have come too late, innit. Sold their bloody birthright for a mess of bloody globalist pottage, innit. (As you will know, I’m not a native speaker of the relevant variety, so I’m guessing as to whether “bloody globalist” is more cromulent sequence than “globalist bloody” in context, and invite correction if I’ve guessed wrong.)

  4. David Eddyshaw says

    “Bloody globalist” is fine; although the traditional locution for the horrid neologism “globalist” is “scheming foreign johnny.”

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    Can you use that traditional locution adjectivally, as in “bloody scheming-foreign-johnny pottage”? I feel like that’s a sufficiently morphologically-complex phrase that maybe the “bloody” wants to be infixed somewhere later in the sequence, just to make the structure even more complex.

  6. David Marjanović says


  7. David Eddyshaw says

    “Bloody” can of course be infixed anywhere. Abso-bloody-lutely anywhere.

  8. Blo-bloody-ody fu-bloody-cking anywhere?

    When I first visited England, I had been told endlessly how polite the British were (and accordingly how I should mind my own manners). I then heard a girl on a London bus going off about someone’s bloody fuckin mother and bloody fuckin father. I was pleasantly shocked.

  9. The immortal Bloody Orkney has been mentioned here before, within an apposite thread.

  10. J.W. Brewer says

    David E.: Pernicious nonsense! There are RULES for expletive-infixation in English. RULES I tell you! One of the highlights of a class on morphology I took as an undergraduate a mere (oh my goodness I suppose it has been a while) 35 fall semesters ago was a day or two spent on the scholarly literature on this phenomenon, and it turns out that most native speakers of English agree on the intuitions that you can, e.g., say fan-bloody-tastic but not *fantas-bloody-tic. There was further scholarly exploration of whether the acceptable v. unacceptable locations for such infixation were more driven by stress patterns and suchlike prosodic factors or by morpheme boundaries. And one crucial takeaway was that this was definitely NOT a rule that pretty much anyone had been prescriptively taught by a schoolteacher or otherwise self-consciously acquired, yet everyone tacitly knew it in their command of their native tongue.

  11. Stu Clayton says

    Pre-thematic Rules !

  12. At an impressionable age I read They’re a Weird Mob, purporting to be the story of Nino Culotta, a journalist from northern Italy who moved to Australia and became a bricklayer. Nino was always cursing the “bloody Meridionali”.

    Somehow that’s the phrase that’s stuck in my mind, even though it would be unlikely to occur in real life. I suppose that’s what makes it funny.

  13. cuchuflete says

    I forwarded the grauniad link to my British spouse, who yells “Bloody Nora!” many times a day while exchanging e-mails with clients. She came storming in, accusing me of declaring her past her sell-by date. This was followed by some muttering about bloody American linguistic hegemony leading fucking British youth astray. Then we both chortled.

  14. I didn’t even realize bloody Nora was a thing, but now I do.

  15. cuchuflete says

    Now that we have established that Bloody Nora is a thing, enquiring minds may wish to find the answer to the inevitable question, “Who the bloody hell was Nora?”

    With the aid of Uncle Google and—who else?!—The Guardian, one finds this:

    “ Who was Bloody Norah and why is she used as an exclamation?

    Deborah Cooke, Greenfield, Oldham, England

    Bloody Norah was originally called Norah and the maid for the wealthy Duke Wodingtonshire in the 17th century. She earned the name Bloody Norah after she killed a servant of the duke with a stick of celery. When the Duke caught her repeatedly slapping the bloody corpse with the stick of celery he shouted “Oh dear god you”re all bloody, Norah….” and after beating her he banished her to a basement cell for 3 years. When the 3 years was up the Duke set her free but Norah insisted on working for the Duke. Reluctantly the Duke gave her a job cleaning the stables only to find 4 days later she had kill another servant, this time with a kettle. When the Duke found her once again maiming her victim with the dented kettle he cried “oh, bloody Norah” and grabbed a horseshoe in an attempt to kill Norah. After a long struggle Norah escapes and leaving the Battered Duke cussing to himself “Bloody Norah!”. The expression came from the Duke himself as would tell the story of Norah to all he knew and would always refer to her as “Bloody Norah”. As the Duke aged he grew senile and would be heard talking to himself and shouting “….BLOODY NORAH!!!!……”. As people around saw him still as a respected figure in the community they all started saying Blood Norah as they all thought the Duke has invented a new cuss word. Its has stuck until present day.

    Ronnie, Essex UK“

    Ronnie is creative, if unconvincing.

  16. David Eddyshaw says

    Blo-bloody-ody fu-bloody-cking anywhere?

    Well, no. English lacks recursion.

  17. J.W. Brewer says

    Is Bloody Nora some degree of kinswoman to Ugly Nora, who was immortalized in a Soft Boys song? (I can’t immediately find a freestanding youtube clip, but if you go to this one and skip ahead to the 58-minute mark you’ll find it. Not that the prior 58 minutes aren’t worthwhile in their own right even if not immediately relevant to this thread.

  18. creative, if unconvincing

    Indeed. It’s pretty much impossible to kill someone with a stick of celery.

    Green’s bloody Nora! refers you to fucking Nora! (neither attested before 1996), said to be a variation on fucking Ada!, where Ada is either a nonsense word or a euphemism for arseholes. The earliest attestation he gives for that is “And I thought, ‘Fucking Ada, I’ve never made a film’”, said by John Lennon in a 1970 interview.

    “Fucking Ada” sounds like the earlier (by a decade or so) “fucking A”, but the former is London, the latter U.S.

    I find “Jesus fucking Nora” in Blind Needle, a 1994 novel by Trevor Hoyle.

  19. Meanwhile in covid-free Australia…

    My better half invokes bloody Nora on a regular basis.

    On the other hand, my preference is for the F word “faken” (google Tony the Yugoslav if you don’t get the reference).

  20. David Eddyshaw says

    fucking A

    The defining feature of Army Creole, according to The Right Stuff.

    Fucking Ada

    Track by Ian Dury, than whom nobody could be Britisher.

  21. “Fucking A, CIA” is also in the 1967 song CIA Man by The Fugs, than whom none can be further from the US Army.

  22. J.W. Brewer says

    I’m not sayin’ affirmatively that “fuckin’ A” ISN’T a clipping of “fuckin’ Ada,” I’m just sayin’ that the former seems extremely natural/idiomatic/cromulent to me as a native AmEng speaker whereas I can’t recall ever hearing the latter, which means that anyone claiming that the former derives from the latter bears the burden of persuasion as far as I’m concerned. But see

  23. It’s pretty much impossible to kill someone with a stick of celery.

    You could put a dab of peanut butter on the end of a stick of celery – an irresistible combination – and dangle it from a fishing pole and lead them over a cliff.

    (Courtesy the Wile E. Coyote School of Foolproof Assassination Techniques).

  24. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s pretty much impossible to kill someone with a stick of celery.

    With one stick, sure. But two

  25. I was thinking Ada < A, not the other way around.

    As to the celery: you tell someone, “If you let me hit you with a celery stick and then fall on your sword, I’ll tell you a clever way of measuring the height of a building using a barometer.”

  26. My favo(u)rite expression is “bloody hell” so I was disapponted that the second half of it was not included in the research. So I went to the Spoken BNC and checked that in 2014 corpus “hell” makes about 118 appearances per million words, about the same as “bloody”, but obviously not only in that collocation. “Bloody hell” runs only at 32 per million and “fucking hell” at 23 per million; “what the hell” stands at about 20 wpm and “how the hell” adds another 4 covering in total about 82 out of 118 (relative) appearances or about 0.7 of all cases.

    Staying on religious topics, “damn” occupies 29 wpm, “heck” covers less than 10 wpm, and “Christ” almost exactly 20 wpm (on the first page of 50 instances, not one of them in a non-swearing position). “Jesus” has respectable 42 wpm, not all of which are intensifiers (but they dominate). On the positive note, “heaven*” makes 12.5 wpm appearances.

    Generic “God” makes 610 wpm beating “fuck” and it’s progeny (almost entirely intensifier EDIT: ok, it’s not really intensifier, but you know what i mean).

  27. David Marjanović says

    “Fucking Ada” sounds like the earlier (by a decade or so) “fucking A”, but the former is London, the latter U.S.

    Isn’t it said that “the Cockney alphabet” goes like this: Fuckin’ A, fuckin’ B, fuckin’ C…

    (Like the Polish one, which goes: A, kurwa… B, kurwa… C, kurwa…)

  28. PlasticPaddy says

    Re the story with “Duke Wodingtonshire”, there never was such a person or place. My guess would be a conflation of Duke Wellington with the village of Waddington (there are several of them). There is a fairly clear cite in a Belfast newspaper from 1820, which uses the phrase in rhetoric resembling a “penny dreadful”. I would posit an Urtext in the early 19C, with a title like “The Dreadfulle Life and Fearsome Deedes of One Nora Taylor, called Bloody Nora, How she Murdered Two Men in the Household of the Noble Duke of W——–shire, Before her Deserved Deathe at the Handes of the Hangman at Newgate”

  29. Stephen R. Donaldson strangely has his American protagonist, Thomas Covenant, saying “bloody hell” (as well as “hell and blood”*) all the time. It comes across as a weird affectation, for a character who otherwise seems like a typical white southerner. The whole thing is particularly odd, since Donaldson himself is an American. Although he spent some of his childhood in India, by the time Lord Foul’s Bane was published, Donaldson had been back living in America for at least a decade.

    * I don’t know whether, “Hell and blood!” is actually an authentic exclamation in any variety of English.

  30. John Cowan says

    Perhaps SRD picked up “Bloody hell!” from local anglophones in India. Thematically, though, the terms fit: both blood and hell(s) are of great significance in the Covenant books, though less prominently in the First Chronicles.

  31. Kate Bunting says

    “Re the story with “Duke Wodingtonshire”, there never was such a person or place.”
    Neither is the title used in that form – it’s always “The Duke of X” – and Norah is an unlikely name for an Englishwoman in the 17th century. It’s a complete farrago of nonsense.

  32. @John Cowan: I wondered if perhaps Donaldson envisioned his protagonist Covenant as being, like himself, a fantasy author who had lived in India and picked up some peculiarities of speech that way. However, I realized that it would not be possible in the framework of the story for Covenant to have previously lived in India.

  33. John Cowan says

    I think of Covenant as a midwesterner, actually.

    But you’re right, if he had lived in India he would have a secondary rather than a primary case.

  34. * I don’t know whether, “Hell and blood!” is actually an authentic exclamation in any variety of English.

    Not any variety I’ve come across. “Bloody hell” is markedly *not* American.

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