What makes a curse word?

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by visceral_instinct, Jul 31, 2009.

  1. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member


    Why is 'poo' merely childish, 'feces' formal, and 'shit' not suitable to be uttered in polite company?

    Harsh sound?

    Etymological origin?
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  3. mathman Valued Senior Member

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  5. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member

    I know, but why? What are the criteria for a curse word?

    Why did we as a society decide that poo or manure are acceptable words, but shit is a rude one?
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  7. parmalee peripatetic artisan Valued Senior Member

    Whyare you so obsessed with matters pertaining to orifices? First vaginas, then "anal," now poop!

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  8. mike47 Banned Banned

    Adults should be able to use any words with other adults . I see no problem .
  9. Asguard Kiss my dark side Valued Senior Member

    VI i think your probably right with the sound idea. All swear words have a curt "agressive" sound and are one syllable (except bastard for some reason)
  10. StrangerInAStrangeLand SubQuantum Mechanic Valued Senior Member


    Some profanity originated with the upper class condemning aspects of lower class language. Some originated with actual cursing. To damn someone is to condemn them. Some came from religion & other subjective morality. Bastard is profanity due to the absurd cruel belief there is something inherently wrong with a baby born out of wedlock. Some results from people desiring to hide from some aspects of reality.
    Different words, ideas & deeds are deemed profane by different societies & at different times. Some words once considered profane by most are not now & vice versa.
    Shit is no more curt, aggressive or harsh than poo except due to the ridiculous belief that 1 is a nice word & the other is nasty.
    1 person's profanity is another's slang.

    As recent as 2 years ago, someone was bitching to me that bastards should be banned from government.
    Last edited by a moderator: Jul 31, 2009
  11. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member


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  12. Delphi Registered Senior Member

    That's pretty accurate; no one thing makes a word profane, but rather a combination of several--whether it be religious, moral, or socioeconomic.

    To exemplify this further I recently read a list of swear words (about 30) ranked by their severity the BBC hands to persons to let them know what they can't say. The list was based on vote by populace, but it was very obvious that it was the UK that was polled, not the US or some other country, because "cunt" was first in severity on that list, and words like "spastic" and others that nobody would consider profane in the States were on that list.

    Basically, a word may become profane in many different ways, but it's ultimately up to the culture to determine what is profane, how it ranks in severity, and how long it stays a bad word.
  13. River Ape Valued Senior Member

    [censuré au Québec] TABERNAC! [/censuré au Québec]
    Pourquoi? Expliquez svp!

    Rudest known Armenian insult.

    Younger son of Sweyn Forkbeard.

    Random thoughts from the mind of River Ape.
  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I'll bet that "cunt" would top the list in the U.S. too. It isn't tossed around here quite so much, but when it is used it is a real jaw-dropper. Ironically "pussy" is used with a quite different meaning and it's become almost respectable.

    But the words that are the most taboo in America are racist epithets, words I won't even write here.
    "Retarded" is starting to be considered intolerably offensive in the U.S. It's now considered unacceptable to speak cruelly about a medical disability someone was born with, or even to use the word as a generic insult.
    English has an amusing history of perfectly normal words acquiring a cachet of bad taste, and being replaced by other words which then acquire their own cachet and must then themselves be replaced. I believe "rooster" was coined because "cock" became unacceptable in polite company. "Teats" became vulgar so we began talking about "breasts" as though people have two of them, and then it became "bosom." The reverse happened when "crotch" became unacceptable and was replaced by "groin," because everyone except amputees actually does have two of those.

    Many other languages have a much richer lexicon of profanity. In Spanish you can call someone a pendejo, which is literally a pubic hair. In fact Hugo Chavez was widely quoted saying that about George Bush.
    What? The Turks are no longer at the top of their list???
  15. stateofmind seeker of lies Valued Senior Member

    Hey VI have you discovered urethra yet?

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  16. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member

    ^ Haha!

    *runs around shouting 'urethra' like a little kid*

    Seriously, I only brought up shit and poo because I wanted an example. I genuinely want to know what makes one word a swear and another an ok word that can be used in polite company.
  17. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member

    I have another question.

    What makes one set of negative concepts suitable for swear words, and another simply something bad?

    Why is feces or sex something that can be used as a curse, but not, say, death, or other organs?

    The word "viscera" has a harsh sound, but if I called you one you wouldn't flinch or be angry. You'd laugh.
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    We're talking about connotations, and the way particular connotations accrue to particular words is unpredictable in advance and often still inexplicable after the fact. We discussed this on the "Connotations" thread.

    For example, the definition of the words "rife" and "teeming" is basically identical to "abounding" and a whole set of other words. Yet the first two words have negative connotations. I would complain that your back yard is "rife with mosquitoes" but I would never brag that my back yard is "rife with butterflies." I would criticize the alleys of a Third World city for "teeming with rats," but I would never compliment the promenades of a First World city for "teeming with poodles."

    Perhaps since the advent of electronic recording we'll be better able to track the history of words. In the future our descendants may be able to figure out why, in the 21st century, "crap" and "pussy" became acceptable in casual conversation, were frequently heard on TV, and even occasionally popped up in board rooms, whereas "shit" and "cunt" were still considered vulgar.
  19. visceral_instinct Monkey see, monkey denigrate Valued Senior Member

    That would be cool. I would be very interested to know.
  20. draqon Banned Banned

    obscenity conveyed emotionally in the words makes a curse word.
  21. Delphi Registered Senior Member

    Yeah, probably. I was just surprised to see it rank higher than "motherfucker," which would probably rank higher in the US than "cunt."
  22. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

    I don't think so. Motherfucker is used without much thought, in my neck off the woods "cunt" is a stronger insult. Amongst my British friends, of course it's no worse than "asshole."
  23. Michael 歌舞伎 Valued Senior Member

    recent MRI studies showed that swearing reduces pain. Which is why its actually good to swear and why we sometimes swear. People were asked to put their hands deep into cold water and people allowed to swear could keep their hands in much longer than those that couldn't swear. Anyway, maybe there is a neurological reason for why some words are TRUE swear words and other aren't?

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