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The BBC profanity index
March 30, 2006 11:14 AM   Subscribe

The BBC uses a survey, apparently, to rank words by their perceived offensiveness.
posted by Kirth Gerson (63 comments total)

 
ahahhahaah "God"
posted by rxrfrx at 11:22 AM on March 30, 2006


haha, "Wanker". It's surprising that 'cunt' is viewed as being so offensive over there. Is it something people say allot?
posted by delmoi at 11:33 AM on March 30, 2006


By the way, in england, is a "fanny" a vagina or a butt or what? Would brits find it odd that amerians wear "fanny packs"?
posted by delmoi at 11:35 AM on March 30, 2006


1 in 5 thinks "Jew" is profanity? What a bunch of cunts.
posted by MaxVonCretin at 11:41 AM on March 30, 2006


j00bs
posted by delmoi at 11:43 AM on March 30, 2006


The document was mentioned (by me) in this thread.

By the way, in england, is a "fanny" a vagina or a butt or what? Would brits find it odd that amerians wear "fanny packs"?

1) Vagina
2) Only in a cringeworthy self-concious way, since we know the American meaning.
posted by cillit bang at 11:48 AM on March 30, 2006


Wanker is worse than nigger? Not in these parts.
posted by airguitar at 11:55 AM on March 30, 2006


holy crap a fanny is a vagina?

oh man. that totally changes the conversation i was having last night with my british friend.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 11:56 AM on March 30, 2006


cillit bang, it didn't show up in my search (and your link isn't working.)
posted by Kirth Gerson at 11:57 AM on March 30, 2006


Ah British English, the best dirty language. Soapy tit wank - a mellifluous phrase that rolls off the tongue like ambrosia.
posted by fleetmouse at 12:00 PM on March 30, 2006


No offensive words or age-related words here?

As a fan of The Catherine Tate Show, I'm a bit disappointed that "tit wank" didn't make the list.
posted by teleskiving at 12:02 PM on March 30, 2006


wow, when I look at the list, it seems so... tame! Bloody god cunt!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:04 PM on March 30, 2006


Sorry the link was meant to go here. It wasn't a callout, I was just surprised to see it turn up in an FPP.
posted by cillit bang at 12:07 PM on March 30, 2006


1 in 5 thinks "Jew" is profanity?

Why does "He's a Jew." sound so much more derogatory "He's Jewish."? At least it does to my ears, but I can't explain why that is.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 12:13 PM on March 30, 2006


Ah, I see. I didn't read that thread - I think all the asterisks made me pass it by.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:16 PM on March 30, 2006


Me too, Armitage, and I can't figure out why either. I'd love to have that explained...
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 12:16 PM on March 30, 2006


Yes, and Ghyl Tarvoke, Gastel Etzwane, Miro Hetzel, Jaro Fath and Magnus Ridolph outrank Kirth Gersen as interesting Vance protagonists.
posted by y2karl at 12:17 PM on March 30, 2006


spastic seemed to rank incredibly high, does it mean something other than the dictionary definition?
posted by juv3nal at 12:18 PM on March 30, 2006


It's nice to see that BBC survey participants include (forgive the term) wankers that feel that "cunt", "motherfucker", and "fuck" are not swear words.

I'd like to see raw data from this survey, so you could get an idea of how many individuals feel that "arse" is profane but "balls" is not.
posted by flipper at 12:18 PM on March 30, 2006


delmoi writes "in england, is a 'fanny' a vagina or a butt or what?"

Fanny is indeed a "vagina" in the Queen's English. And 'cunt' is used all the time. I used to live there and i was shocked, SHOCKED to hear it as much as i did.
posted by indiebass at 12:19 PM on March 30, 2006


spastic seemed to rank incredibly high, does it mean something other than the dictionary definition?

It's the formal version of spazz.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 12:21 PM on March 30, 2006


ass spelt 'arse' still hurts my eyes... cunts....


Metafilter:
You need a thread about insults so as to be vulgar without being self conscious about it.
posted by Sijeka at 12:23 PM on March 30, 2006


Canonical cunt. [mp3 NSFW]
posted by Armitage Shanks at 12:23 PM on March 30, 2006


Why does "He's a Jew." sound so much more derogatory "He's Jewish."? At least it does to my ears, but I can't explain why that is.

See also "He's black" / "He's a black". I think it's just because when you turn it into a noun you make it sound like it's that person's one defining characteristic, and also vaguely implies that they must share a whole bunch of other characteristics with members of the same group.
posted by teleskiving at 12:29 PM on March 30, 2006


y2karl, you're entitled to your opinion, whatever its worth.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 12:40 PM on March 30, 2006


I didn't see "fuckwit".

teleskiving, it's pretty simple. "Jewish" is easily derived by the suffix ish to mean "He's got a little bit of the Jew. Kinda Jew-like, if you ask me."

Slightly related: a fantastic new Wikipedia article on Latin profanity. Interestingly, the most taboo word seems to have been the one for "clitoris".
posted by dhartung at 12:43 PM on March 30, 2006


ambitious
posted by srs at 12:45 PM on March 30, 2006


Interesting to see twat fall right about in the middle. The OED gives two distinct definitions: 1) a woman's genitals; 2) a stupid or obnoxious person. It also gives two variant pronunciations: 'twot' and 'twat'.

I'm not entirely sure about how things stand in Britain, but here in the Antipodes the rhymes-with-'snot' twat always refers to the first definition, and is probably only slightly less offensive than 'cunt'; and the rhymes-with-cat twat always refers to the second, and is approximately as offensive as, say, 'pillock', 'doofus' or 'berk'. Or so I thought. I'm not all that sure any more how common this distinction is. This week in Shortland Street, the local run-of-the-mill evening soap opera, a character called someone else a 'twot', when the writer presumably meant 'twat'. It gave everyone in my office (we create closed captions for the show) a little giggle, but it was obviously not egregious enough for the actor or director to notice.

Incidentally, 'berk' derives from 'Berkshire Hunt' - rhyming slang for 'cunt'.
posted by Soulfather at 1:03 PM on March 30, 2006


I once worked in a shop selling sporting goods in a rather affluent part of London. One afternoon I was assigned the exciting task of replacing 144 header cards on the packaging of "fanny packs" received from a particular US supplier.
posted by normy at 1:04 PM on March 30, 2006


Spastic is offensive in English? Is that a noun or an adjective? And am I completely missing some definition of that word, because I can't say I've ever heard it used in any offensive way... maybe I'm just naive and innocent. Or something.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 1:04 PM on March 30, 2006


Maybe people who suffer from epilepsy find it upsetting? I know nobody bats an eye at "spastic" in my part of the US, but we do tend to avoid "retard." Same idea, I guess.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:15 PM on March 30, 2006


Around these here parts (South Carolina, USA), "god damn(ed)" is right up there with "fuck" as one of the very worst things you can say.

I'm guessing that's due to some poorly thought out idea that you're cursing God. And He doesn't like that.
posted by LordSludge at 1:23 PM on March 30, 2006


In this context, spastic means cerebral palsy sufferer. The charity for CP in the UK used to be called the Spastic's Society. It's hardly surprising that people are offended when it is used an an insult.
posted by teleskiving at 1:24 PM on March 30, 2006


And am I completely missing some definition of that word, because I can't say I've ever heard it used in any offensive way...

From The Guardian:
Mong

Several haven't heard of this word - polarising - many say is inoffensive, but after discussion see that it could be offensive in the way that 'retard' is

Nutter

Although this comes into the category of offensive to people with mental ill health or learning difficulties, it is generally seen as very light (Much more so than retard and schizo) and most think it is not offensive at all.

Retard

Quite polarising: offensive because of it effectively refers to a disability, but many do not see this as an issue. A few do, however; for one it is the new 'spastic'; others find it really objectionable

Schizo

Quite polarising: offensive because it effectively refers to a disability, but many do not see this as an issue.

Spastic

Recognised as very offensive to most people, though a few think it is okay to use the word 'spas' or spaz
posted by Armitage Shanks at 1:24 PM on March 30, 2006


1 in 5 thinks "Jew" is profanity? What a bunch of cunts

I don't think it's so much that the word "Jew" is viewed as profanity per se as that its use is offensive in some contexts, eg, if someone is tightfisted, parsimonious or niggardly (weren't we just talking about this?), someone might say "oh, don't be such a Jew", and that is offensive.

ass spelt 'arse' still hurts my eyes... cunts....

"Ass" is not spelled (or spelt) "arse", though, since the use of the word "arse" as a synonym for the buttocks predates "ass" by several centuries, if anything, it may be the other way around, and that offends me and hurts my eyes. Wanker.

Spastic is offensive in English?

Well, spastic is offensive in British English for much the same reason, and is used in much the same way, as retard in American English.

Ultimately, of course, the offensive "four letter" words in English that are referred to as Anglo-Saxon are indeed that, and were once perfectly ordinary words - words like cunt, shit, arse, fart and fuck. It was only after the Norman invasion and Norman French became the language of respectability that Anglo-Saxon became "vulgar" (literally, "common") and the old venerables became taboo. Germaine Greer, I believe, has pointed out that there is no precise, inoffensive, or even technical, synonym for the transitive verb "to fuck". It certainly isn't copulate because it's not transitive, bang, screw etc are fine synonyms, but they're still offensive, penetrate is not precise enough, and besides, does not have the same connotation of vigor, and so on.
posted by kcds at 1:26 PM on March 30, 2006


Yeah, spastic is pretty offensive. It means the same thing as "retard" and is offensive for the same reasons.
posted by arcticwoman at 1:28 PM on March 30, 2006


OverlappingElvis: I think spastic used as a noun might be considered offensive by many people in Britain. I remember hearing it used a lot by kids when I was at school (late 70s to the late 80s, probably heard it used most in the early 80s though), when it was used to imply lack of intelligence and/or lack of control over motor functions.
posted by kumonoi at 1:29 PM on March 30, 2006


I know nobody bats an eye at "spastic" in my part of the US, but we do tend to avoid "retard." Same idea, I guess.

Yep. It's use as an insult is so widespread that I think most people would need reminding that it's a medical condition. The Spastics Society had to change its name.
posted by cillit bang at 1:29 PM on March 30, 2006


For some time, "spastic" (or the short form, "spaz") became used (both in noun and verb form) in the UK (normally by children) as an all-purpose derogatory insult meaning clumsy, stupid, idiotic, person unworthy of imitation, etc. This despite (or a corruption of) its legitimate medical meaning. Some people with greater empathy for individuals afflicted with that particular condition consider it, therefore, highly insensitive and offensive.

In a somewhat controvertial move, the stigmatization of the word "spastic", led The Spastics Society in the UK to change its name to Scope [.pdf] in 1994.
posted by normy at 1:29 PM on March 30, 2006


...or what cillit bang said.
posted by normy at 1:30 PM on March 30, 2006


dhartung: that wiki article on Latin vulgarity was killer funny. I'm am debating whether or not I should forward it to my Latin prof...
posted by arcticwoman at 1:32 PM on March 30, 2006


The UK seems to be less sexist in the use of genital derived insults. As I recall from the writing of Denise Mina, dick, prick, cunt, twat, etc. may equally apply to males and females, while people in the US seem more concerned about making genital sense.

Question: In the UK can "bitch" be applied to a male (who isn't gay)?
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 2:08 PM on March 30, 2006


dick, prick, cunt, twat, etc. may equally apply to males and females,

That's not true. All four of those are usually only used about men.

In the UK can "bitch" be applied to a male (who isn't gay)?

You would never call a guy a "bitch" unless you were trying to call him womanly/gay as well as bitchy.
posted by cillit bang at 2:11 PM on March 30, 2006


santorum?

felch?

pegging?

rimming?

Barbers pole? Bean flicker? MILF? Cameltoe? having a gladys? twunt? Jam rag? Rosie palmer and her five sisters? Nurfing? One eyed trouser snake? Teabagging? Uphill gardening?

This list is weak. You bunch of santorum stained felching, rimming peg-boy twunts.
posted by lalochezia at 2:44 PM on March 30, 2006


#cillit bang: All four of those are usually only used about men.

I said that in Denise Mina's writing (Scots and Irish in Glasgow), her characters use these in a all gender manner. In fact the only gender specific insult I recall her using was "cow".

Now are you saying that Mina is wrong about Glasgow slang, or that genderless insults is not in general use in the UK and is restricted to places like Glasgow and some others?
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 2:48 PM on March 30, 2006


Well, Glasgow slang is a whole other thing. Up there, 'cunt' is often heard used as a general impersonal pronoun, while 'fucking' (or more accurately fuckinnn') is pretty much just punctuation.
posted by influx at 3:16 PM on March 30, 2006


dick, prick, cunt, twat, etc. may equally apply to males and females,

That's not true. All four of those are usually only used about men.


I disagree - all four can be used about men and the last two for women. You can call a woman a dickhead but it sounds odd. There's no problem calling her a cunt (as long as you can run fast enough).
posted by patricio at 3:23 PM on March 30, 2006


I would also say that I remember spastic being used fairly liberally in the playground (complete with gestures and uhhhnn-type noises). I would now consider it totally taboo, probably even more so than calling someone a cunt or some other generic swear word. I don't know if it was Spastic Society/Scope's change of name but there has a real shift over the last 20 years to make it unacceptable.
posted by patricio at 3:40 PM on March 30, 2006


#MonkeySaltedNuts: In the UK can "bitch" be applied to a male

In answer to my own question, in Mina's Resolution, she has a Glasgow character say:
'Fuck off, Joe,' she snapped. 'You're a cheeky bitch.' (p. 8)
All of her books at Amazon let you search-inside-the-book for swear words.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 4:01 PM on March 30, 2006


I like how "dickhead" is viewed by the majority (60%) as being mild swearing or not swearing at all. Really sort of an endearment, innit?

You can call a woman a dickhead but it sounds odd
You can call me a cunthead.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 5:03 PM on March 30, 2006


We used "spaz" in Southern California on clumsy people, etc. I read the thread but I didn't pick up many other Americans using it. Weird.
posted by deborah at 10:16 PM on March 30, 2006


Here is a typical "spaz" joke I remember from my childhod: (it was best done with with body language): You have 3 spazs and you offer an ice cream cone to any that are able to clap their hands. The first two miss in clapping while the 3rd connects.

So you give the 3rd an ice cream cone and he shoves it into his eyes rather than his mouth.

HA. HA.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 10:49 PM on March 30, 2006


Not cunthead, but cuntface!
posted by avocet at 10:51 PM on March 30, 2006


Now are you saying that Mina is wrong about Glasgow slang, or that genderless insults is not in general use in the UK and is restricted to places like Glasgow and some others?

I've never been to Glasgow, but as far as I recall I have never heard a woman called a cunt or a twat anywhere else in the UK, or on TV. That's what I'm saying.
posted by cillit bang at 11:05 PM on March 30, 2006


I know a Liverpudlian lass, who takes great delight in calling people, including other women, cunts. As does my girlfriend to her best friend, mainly because it annoys her.

The Jew thing, I imagine, stems from the colloquial way of saying don't be cheap or steal. I grew up saying: "Don't be such a Jew." when people didn't want to share, and I was raised in a very liberal household. It wasn't until later I realised the full implication of it. But, also, I've been in shops and been short-changed and on mentioning the server has replied: "Sorry, I didn't mean to Jew you."
posted by Navek Rednam at 11:19 PM on March 30, 2006


cillit bang, you need to move in less elevated circles, hang around on an estate for a while and you'll soon hear a woman called a twat and/or cunt.
posted by biffa at 12:53 AM on March 31, 2006


I'm also absolutely staggered to see that anyone thinks the word "Jew" is in any way offensive. Those people must be anti-semites.
posted by Decani at 4:58 AM on March 31, 2006


Joey!
posted by slimepuppy at 5:26 AM on March 31, 2006


Decani, as Navek Rednam and so many others pointed out, it's not the word but its usage that people find offensive.

A fantastic Softer World strip that plays on the concept.
posted by slimepuppy at 5:29 AM on March 31, 2006


Or scopes.
posted by Mocata at 5:29 AM on March 31, 2006


On the Glasgow front a five minute trip on the buses here should yield confirmation that "cunt" can be used just a easily for either sex and indeed as adjective, verb and any other word you feel like- "That cunting cunt John was coming the cunt so I ah says 'you ya cunt, you taking the cunt'? Cunt shat it n walked away". Really is breathtaking the amount of swearing we use in this neck of the woods. Have noticed in my travels that Glasgow suit and tie wearers are more ready to reach for anglo-saxon than similair groups elsewhere in Scotland, UK etc and not tied to the "sink estates" etc that you might expect.

Also does anywhere else use it as a terms of endearment? In Glasgow (among some groups, predomnately male) the assesment "he's an a'right cunt" can actually be used to praise someone to another in your group. One of my school mates would exclaim years later upon seeing one for the first time (with great warmth) "You ya cunt. Ah thought you were deid [dead]!" in greeting. This was never thought to be inappropriate (though wouldn't fancy bumping in to him in a fancy restuarant).
posted by Gratishades at 5:49 AM on March 31, 2006


as Navek Rednam and so many others pointed out, it's not the word but its usage that people find offensive.

And that usage makes those people anti-Semites, whether they know it or not. Using the name of someone's religion as shorthand for some undesireable quality is always demeaning to people of that religion, isn't it?
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:01 AM on March 31, 2006


I wrote that badly. It's not the people who find the usage offensive who are antisemitic; it's the people who use the word that way.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 7:19 AM on March 31, 2006


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