Swear words and taboo words can intensify what is said, but they can shock or give offence. Swearing and the use of taboo words and expressions is quite common in speaking. We often hear and use it both in private and in public settings and in films, on television and on the radio.
The use of taboo expressions suggests that speakers have, or wish to have, a close personal relationship with others. We also use taboo expressions and swear words when we express strong feelings, or when we wish to threaten or to be unpleasant to others.
It is sometimes difficult for learners of a language to know how strong such expressions are and how to use them in an appropriate way. Learners are advised against using all such expressions.
Most swearing and most uses of taboo expressions in English refer to religion or to parts of the body and bodily processes, especially those associated with sexual activity or with using the toilet.
In English, swearing which involves ‘religious’ taboo expressions is likely to be weaker than swearing that involves ‘parts of the body’ taboo expressions. The most common taboo expressions that involve ‘parts of the body’ are fuck (to have sexual intercourse – the word is used both as a noun and as a verb) and shit (bodily excrement – the word is used both as a noun and as an adjective).
When we swear, we commonly use interjections. These can be single words or short phrases or clauses. We most commonly use them to express strong feelings, especially feelings of anger. The strength of the words and expressions here is marked in stars. A very strong expression has five stars (*****) and a less strong expression has one star (*). People have different views about which expressions are stronger than others.
Taboo expressions involving religion
Damn*! She’s borrowed my camera without telling me.
Oh bloody hell**! Just leave me alone, will you.
Christ***! Why didn’t you tell us how much the new brakes were going to cost!!
Taboo expressions involving parts of the body
Shit****! I’ve forgotten to phone Geoff.
Oh fuck it*****! I can’t find my phone.
We sometimes use wh-exclamatives with taboo words:
Why the hell* is he driving so fast!
What the fuck***** has she done to my laptop!
You will find the meanings of most taboo expressions in a good learner’s dictionary.
Taboo expressions are very common as intensifying adverbs or adjectives:
Where’s the bloody** key?
He’s fucking***** dangerous. He needs to get proper skis.