Swearing on Rise

…but parents still don’t want kids hearing it, according to Mark Brown’s Guardian piece on a recent survey:

The British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) published a report on Thursday into attitudes towards swearing and whether people want a more liberal approach in media content.

It includes a survey of 1,000 people that found:

• Six in 10 people say strong language, such as the F word, is part of their daily lives.

• About a third of people say they use strong language more than they did five years ago. The figure is slightly higher for women (32%) than men (27%).

• There is a generation divide when it comes to swearing with 46% of generation Zs – people born after 1996 – saying they frequently use strong language. That compares with 12% for people aged 55-64.

• Asked about swearing in public, 65% of over-55s say they would never do it; for 18-24-year-olds the figure is 25%.

• Most parents don’t want their kids hearing them swear with only one in five admitting they are comfortable using strong language in the home.

The research also asked whether parents would accept more frequent use of strong and very strong – eg the C word – language in content classified in the 12 category. The response to that was no.

That “12% for people aged 55-64” sounds like straight-up lying to me, but what do I know, I’m not a Brit. In any case, the link has discussion of TV shows and films (“for a U-rated film such as Monsters Inc, ‘look at the big jerk’ will be as strong as it gets,” but Bohemian Rhapsody includes the immortal phrase “Freddie fucking Mercury”). Thanks, Trevor!


  1. Well, shucky darn.

  2. I’m old enough to recall hearing the c-word in ‘Carnal Knowledge’ (1971). It was quite a shock at that time.

  3. Yes, younger generations will never know the illicit thrill of hearing naughty language in public.

  4. Jen in Edinburgh says

    It depends what you mean by ‘frequently’, I suppose. I certainly don’t use swear words every day, and I’m a good bit younger than 55.

    I do try not to swear unless I mean it – I’m not particularly offended by people who use swear words casually, but it’s not how I want to speak.

    (I possibly even swear *less* than I think I do, because I’ve occasionally really shocked people who know me quite well by swearing for emphasis when they weren’t expecting it…)

    I am intrigued by these people who only swear in private. Presumably they mean with friends and family, rather than only when they’re alone.

  5. I think I don’t swear nearly as much as I used to. When I was a teenager and undergraduate, my friends and I were very foul-mouthed, because épater la bourgeoisie or something, but now it just seems kind of boring and pointless to say bad words all the time.

    I try to avoid expletives when I’m home alone, because my cat is very easily shocked.

  6. my cat is very easily shocked.

    They can be like that, up to a point. See P. G. Wodehouse, The Story of Webster.

  7. I have still not come to terms with how sucks has become so bleached that even the likes of Obama use it unabashedly in public.

  8. It depends what you mean by ‘frequently’, I suppose. I certainly don’t use swear words every day, and I’m a good bit younger than 55.

    Good point; I guess there are a lot of people who don’t avoid swearing on principle but don’t do it that often.

  9. I for one swear far more frequently when talking to myself, although not only then, and not necessarily alone.

  10. People around me swore a lot when I was a teenager and never to express negative emotions. They were mostly math students and the very idea that a word can be “bad” for no reason, just because it is designated as “a bad word”, was really funny.
    It felt good: mostly because the people in question were good. And Russian swear words have positive emotional connotations for me.

    It has to do with my usual attitude to the euthemism threadmill.

  11. John Cowan says

    I try not to swear around my school-age children and grandchildren to avoid a Mrs. Grundy chain. My wife and daughter and I are no Grundys, but if we swear around our kids, they may go to school and swear, and then they will get in trouble, not because the school people are that likely to be Grundys either, but because if they allow swearing in school, it may spread to other kids, who take it home to their parents and relatives who are either Grundys themselves or else, like us, don’t want their kids to swear in school because ….

    Solomon Grundy,
    Born on a Monday,
    Christened on Tuesday,
    Married on Wednesday,
    Sick on Thursday,
    Worse on Friday,
    Died on Saturday,
    Buried on Sunday,
    That was the end
    Of Solomon Grundy.

    etc. etc. etc.

  12. I reckon i swear less than i did when i was a teenager & in my early 20s.
    But then i’ve got small kids, so i try to watch my language.

    I wonder if there any study on the parental swearing “dip”?

  13. I have still not come to terms with how sucks has become so bleached that even the likes of Obama use it unabashedly in public
    It seems to me that both swearing (as in “using certain swear words”, not as in Captain Haddock-like tirades) has become more normal over my lifetime, and that many words that used to be strong swearwords have bleached and become mere speech fillers. Both developments certainly go together. At least part of it must be due to the post-1968 loosening of social restrictions. So the lesser amount of swearing reported by the older cohorts may reflect the older attitude against using swear words, resulting in more restrained use and probably also a reduced likelihood to admit to swearing.

  14. Good points.

  15. Kate Bunting says

    I (60+) seldom swear, least of all in company, and never use obscenities such as the F-word. I find it ugly and mindless, not satisfying and liberating as some folks claim.

  16. PlasticPaddy says

    If you remember the Costa Concordia wreck, there was a famous call between Captain Schettino, who had abandoned his ship and Naval Commandant de Falco, who was coordinating rescue operations onshore.

    De Falco:
    Mi dice se ci sono bambini, donne o persone bisognose di assistenza. E mi dice il numero di ciascuna di queste categorie. E’ chiaro?
    Guardi Schettino che lei si è salvato forse dal mare ma io la porto… veramente molto male… le faccio passare un’anima di guai. Vada a bordo, cazzo!»

    Source: https://www.corriere.it/cronache/12_gennaio_16/procuratore-grosseto-schettino-fermato-perche-poteva-fuggire_76f76cec-4029-11e1-a5d2-75a8a88b1277.shtml

    Tell me if there are children, women or people needing assistance. And tell me the number in each of these categories. Got it?
    Look, Schettino, you have perhaps rescued yourself from the sea but I am really going to make things very bad for you [lit. bring you much evil]…I am going to make you suffer [lit. endure a soul of sufferings]. Get on board, God damn it! [or “you prick!”]

    I think de Falco was straining to remain calm and polite, but found it impossible.

  17. @John Cowan: Your comment initially confused me and then gave me a “lightbulb moment,” a la David Marjanović.

    I had been familiar with the nursery rhyme “Solomon Grundy” since childhood, but I did not learn it in its native milieu. I first encountered it in Math for Smarty Pants, in a context where the reader was invited to figure out how the events described could actually make sense. (Obviously, not all the days have be in the same week.)

    I have never encountered the rhyme being recited by children, and I now realize that a key element of the rhyme is repetition. At the end of one week, another begins. So Solomon Grundy, after dying and being buried, is born anew on Monday. This explains another thing that had puzzled me when I first encountered it as a child: why the Superman adversary (calling him a “villain” would be too strong) Solomon Grundy is an undead revenant, risen from the grave.

  18. David Eddyshaw says

    Costa Concordia

    Refreshing my memory from WP, I discover that parbuckle is a thing:


  19. Y, I never thought of suck as a swear word. Does it have an implied object? Perhaps you would say the implied obect is dick; but couldn’t it just as well be mud, from the Texas oil fields (“Shut ‘er down ma, she’s suckin’ mud!”)? Or lemons?
    I searched the Interwebs for etymologies, and all I found was the Urban Dictionary’s theory, that jazz musicians would use blow to praise a fine trumpeter or saxophonist, and therefore suck to dis a bad player.

  20. January First-of-May says

    Perhaps you would say the implied ob[j]ect is dick

    I’m used to the extension being sucks ass, but apparently this isn’t the only option. I actually distinctly recall this being discussed on LH only a week or two ago, but can’t seem to find the comment.

  21. My first uninformed guess would be that it is from sucker like in infant.

  22. Green’s dictionary has a surprisingly late first occurence (“Franz Kafka sucks”, 1963). Setting aside the actual historical origin of the expression, which few of us experienced at first hand, the question is, what’s the association for present day speakers? To me it’s one of these things that you don’t notice until you think about them. But when I do, the immediate implication is “dick” or whatever, because in this culture that’s an inferior place to be in (and I think “suck lemons” is a transparent euphemism).

    The jazz explanation on Urban Dictionary doesn’t work for me. In fact, “blows” means the same as “sucks”, both in the sexual and in the general sense.

  23. January First-of-May says

    To me it’s one of these things that you don’t notice until you think about them. But when I do, the immediate implication is “dick” or whatever, because in this culture that’s an inferior place to be in (and I think “suck lemons” is a transparent euphemism).

    Pretty much. If I didn’t know about sucks (major) ass I would probably have guessed “dick”.

    In fact, “blows” means the same as “sucks”, both in the sexual and in the general sense.

    (I actually kinda wonder how that happened; the verbs are nominally antonyms. It does make more sense in the sexual meaning, which heavily suggests that the sexual meaning came first.)

    Unrelatedly: is this the first LH post whose title does not end in punctuation? I tried to check on JC’s list, but there are several different kinds of punctuation, which makes the check complicated, and I hadn’t managed to get through more than the first few hundred.

  24. is this the first LH post whose title does not end in punctuation?

    There’s a university in Germany working on a complete critical edition of Language Hat, with a concordance and indexes. Your question should be easy to check there, but the project won’t be finished until the year 2055.

  25. The University of Weissnichtwo, no doubt.

  26. Good lord, retirement has really caused my copyediting faculty to degenerate. I didn’t even notice the lack of a period. I guess I can’t add one now…

  27. We briefly discussed sucks ass just last month.

  28. Using the list of titles from John’s “Commented-On Language Hat Posts” page, I get 6,993 titles ending in a period, 208 in question mark, 139 in exclamation point, 13 in closing double quotation mark, 5 in ellipsis, 4 in closing single quotation mark, 1 in closing parenthesis, and 1 in colon, plus 16 that end in letters and 1 in a number.

    Which is to say that our host has missed the punctuation once in every 434 posts on average.

  29. I remember now that I originally had it with an exclamation point, then decided that was excessive and decided to change it to a period, but between deletion and substitution I must have gotten distracted by a shiny thing.

  30. I get 6,993 titles…

    By the next week it will be a cool round 7000. JC used to inform us about such milestones.

  31. D.O., that’s just the number ending in periods. There were 7,381 in total.

  32. Ah! Ok, as a public service here’s OED on suck:

    7. slang. A deception; a disappointing event or result. Also suck-in.
    1856 J. Dow Serm. II. 316 A monstrous humbug—a grand suck in.

    11. plural as int. Used as an expression of contempt, chiefly by children. Also in sucks to you and variants slang.
    1913 C. Mackenzie Sinister St. I. i. vii. 98 This kid’s in our army, so sucks!
    1922 F. Hamilton P. J.: Secret Service Boy iv. 178 ‘S’, he announced, ‘u,c,k,s,t,o,y,o,u.’
    1935 N. Mitchison We have been Warned i. 28 Brian is a baby. Oh sucks, oh sucks on Brian.

    The verb form is attested (by OED) only from 1971 and surprisingly is related to Canadian slang, but with the earliest citation from 1974.

    Anyway, I learned a wonderful expression “to suck the hind tit”.

  33. And the immortal “Sucks to your ass-mar”.

  34. 16 that end in letters

    Swearing on Rise
    Saving N
    Memories of Japanese Input: Appeal to Readers
    A Better Turing Test

  35. January First-of-May says

    “A POEM FOR” is actually “A POEM FOR JULIA.”, but the “JULIA.” part is a link that apparently didn’t get caught by JC’s script.

    I suspect that most of the others are real though.

  36. Bathrobe says

    Solomon Grundy,
    Born on a Monday,

    “Grundy” is obviously supposed to rhyme with “Monday”. Is this pronunciation still current? I still use it occasionally but I don’t think I hear it much from younger people.

  37. ktschwarz says

    “Saving N” is really “Saving N|uu.” (with period at end). The script must have tripped on the vertical line, which is U+007C VERTICAL LINE, one of the 128 characters of ASCII. Technically, it should be ǀ (U+01C0 LATIN LETTER DENTAL CLICK, IPA: Tenuis dental click), which looks almost identical, so that computers can understand that this is part of a word and not a punctuation mark; but then there’s the tradeoff that U+007C is more likely to exist in every font than U+01C0.

  38. Ah, so this is far from the first. As early as 2004 KEIF/KAIF had no punctuation. I don’t know whether to feel good or bad about that.

  39. As far as I can tell they are all from your carefree, devil-take-the-fullstop, early days. Except for this last one, which is from your carefree, devil-take-the-fullstop, retirement days. It doesn’t bother me. If you ever put an interrobang after a title, though…

  40. Never!

  41. The one that ends in a number is “ON TRANSLATING NAMES 2”, from 2004.

  42. @Bathrobe: I’m not typically very appreciative of slant rhymes, by Grundy and Monday are definitely close enough to work, even with the current pronunciations. Perhaps I am more accepting of them in the context of a very rhythmical nursery rhyme than I would be in elevated poetry (although, as I said, I don’t actually know “Solomon Grundy” from spoken, playground use).

  43. Lars Mathiesen says

    I was taught to pronounce Monday to rhyme with Grundy, i.e., with -ay reduced to a happy vowel, and still do. I get no incomprehending stares, at least.

  44. “suck”:

    1. I have always assumed a sexual implication here.*
    2. I also have always suspected that (1) is my Russian background rather than its actual etymology. Because it never co-occurs with dicks (maybe in sexual contexts).

    *Stu was correct then but… Honestly, even in that the “C word” (the body part I think rather than the word) is “very strong” compared to “fuck” I see more sexism/interaction with actual gender roles than in this very innocently used suck. I did not mean or think that “this abstraction is performing oral sex on another abstraction, how it dares” when saying “it sucks”. Love-making is a good thing yet I don’t feel bad when swearing.

    “blow” and “lick” share a meaning “strike”. That licks*

    *A hypothetical profanity with a meanign directly opposite to that ot it sucks.

  45. @Bathrobe: As @Lars says, it’s “Monday” that rhymes with “Grundy”, not the other way round. In my (southern British) idiolect, this pronunciation is the lax variant; if speaking carefully, the “day” syllable gets full value. Like the difference between lax “half three” and careful “half past three”.

  46. Bathrobe says

    @ TonyK

    Sorry, I was careless with the directionality. I was actually talking about “Monday” being pronounced as “Mundy”. I do use this pronunciation myself but not as much as I used to, and I get the feeling that when I do I’m out of sync with general usage.

    I also say “Saddey ahvo” for “Saturday afternoon”, but I don’t think that’s so common any more, either.

  47. Rodger C says

    Because it never co-occurs with dicks (maybe in sexual contexts).

    My niece, a retired US Air Force mechanic, is apt to say, as an expression of profound sympathy, “Well, that sucks big donkey dicks.”

  48. John Cowan says

    My list omits all posts with no comments at allses, but if you go to http://languagehat.com/gazoogle[*] you will get the site 404 page, which tells you that (as of right now) there are 7697 posts.

    [*] Or any equally improbable slug. If you use “foo” it won’t work because WordPress quietly expands that to “food-for-language”.

    I say Mundy and Toosdy, whereas Gale says Mun-day and Tyues-day, wherefore she accuses me of talking like a New Jersey gangster.

  49. Alas, the site 404 page no longer displays this helpful information.

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