What British swear word is going out of style? 

Britain’s internationally famous swear word, bloody, has dropped by 80% in the popularity rankings, landing in third place, behind fuck and shit.

Or as the Independent so delicately puts it, behind “the f-word” and “s***.”

No, I don’t know why they can’t use the same form to mask both words  They did spell out bloody, though, which helps those of us who aren’t British sort out how high it ranks on the forbiddenness list: Far enough down that all of its letters were left in plain view.

Having said that, the survey says that both bloody and fuck are being used less in casual conversation. 

How would you measure that? Do you ask people, “How many times in the past week did you use the following words?” Do you tap their phones or install a nanochip in the Covid vaccines that notifies Bill Gates every time you swear? 

Does Bill Gates care?

None of the above. Dr. Robbie Love trawled through twenty years of transcripts in the British National Corpus of Conversation, looking at how usage changed over time. That meant looking through 15 million words for mentions of 16 swear words.

It’s amazing what humans will do. 

Irrelevant photo: hydrangea with butterfly

What’s the British National Corpus of Conversation? It’s 100 million words of written and spoken language from the “later part of the 20th century”–90% of them written (“newspapers, academic books, essays, etc.”) and 10% informal conversations and radio shows.

Which surely means it underestimates people’s swearing. I used to host a radio show, all by my foul-mouthed self, and I didn’t swear once when I was on the air. Still, if he found a decline over twenty years, at least he’s comparing twenty-year-old apples to more modern apples.

Love thinks the word shit gets a boost from the handy way it can be tacked onto other words, like -head and -eating. And fuck? It gets a boost from the number of places it can be dropped into a sentence: 

I fuckin’ hate work days.

I hate fuckin’ work days.

I hate work fuckin’ days. 

I’m stretching it with that last one, but it’s not completely out of the question. If I’d given myself some longer words to work with, I could also have dropped it in mid-fuckin’-word. Count that as an opportunity lost.

Linguists (I’ve read) call this the fucking insertion. I asked Lord Google if he’d confirm that for me, but he thought I was interested in porn. I’ll pay for my intellectual curiosity by wading through an assortment of gross-out ads. In the meantime, you’ll have to take my unsupported word on the subject unless one of the linguists hidden hereabouts cares to wade in. 

I know you’re out there. 

Men still swear more than women, the survey reports, but the gap is narrowing, striking another blow for equality.

 

And since we’re in polite company

The Cerne Giant–one of Britain’s best-known chalk figures–has at long last been reliably dated

And when I say dated, I don’t mean romantically. I mention that because he’s clearly available. He’s naked, he’s anatomically correct (in an exaggerated way that I guess makes him overcorrect), and he’s visibly interested. But no, that’s not what we’re talking about. Cernie’s still single. We’re talking about dating the era when he was carved into the hillside. Experts have spent years debating that. He was Roman. He was Celtic. He was Cromwellian. 

Sorry, everyone, but none of those are right. The National Trust has brought in some high-tech equipment and pronounced him Anglo-Saxon, probably from the tenth century. That’s based on microscopic snails in the sediment.

No, I didn’t know microscopic snails existed either.

For whatever reasons, local documents have been no help in figuring out his origins. He’s not mentioned in the tenth century, in the sixteenth century, or in the seventeenth century. There he is, dominating the hillside, and no one mentioned him.

The best explanation for the figure belongs to Gordon Bishop, of the Cerne Historical Society. Asked if he had a theory, he said, “I don’t have one. . . . You can make up all sorts of stories. I don’t know why he is on the hill, . . . I can’t work it out. “

 

 

Who’s best at spotting fake news?

According to a US survey, people who are the most certain that they can spot fake news are the most likely to be taken in by it.

I’m still trying to figure out if that’s sobering or hysterically funny. You would think anything could hit both notes at once.

Nine out of ten people in the survey ranked themselves above average in their ability to tell the difference, which reminds me of Garrison Keillor’s line about Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, where all the children are above average. 

Two out of ten put themselves fifty or more percentiles higher than their actual scores. 

Americans do agree, for the most part, that fake news is everywhere. It’s the one thing uniting the country just now. Take that away and it all gets even worse.

The study’s author, Ben Lyons, said, “No matter what domain [I think he’s talking about countries and cultures here], people on average are overconfident. . . . But over 70% of people displaying overconfidence is just such a huge number.” 

Men–both in this study and in general–are more overconfident than women, and more vulnerable to false news. Another blow struck for feminism. The minute men stop undermining us and we stop undermining ourselves, we can be as vulnerable to fake news as they are.

Can I hear a few cheers for human progress, please?

 

And speaking of misinformation . . .

Somebody out there (including the Republican senator Rand Paul) is promoting ivermectin, an animal dewormer, as a treatment for Covid. In fact, a judge in Cincinnati ordered a hospital to treat a patient with it because his doctor ordered it.

Why doesn’t the hospital want to? Because the drug’s approved for humans only in limited ways–to treat head lice, scabies, river blindness, and assorted other problems caused by parasites. It has nothing to do with treating a virus. Clinical trials haven’t turned up enough evidence to use it against Covid. 

The patient’s doctor, though, says federal authorities and the media are in a conspiracy to cover up the drug’s effectiveness. He calls it genocride. Or he says we’d call it that if another country did it, which allows him to call it genocide without actually calling it genocide.

What does the US Food and Drug Administration say? 

I don’t think it’s commented on the specific case, but on the subject of ivermectin in general it tweeted, “You are not a horse. You are not a cow. Seriously, y’all. Stop it,” 

In a more sober mood, it also said, “Even the levels of ivermectin for approved uses can interact with other medications, like blood-thinners. You can also overdose on ivermectin, which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, hypotension (low blood pressure), allergic reactions (itching and hives), dizziness, ataxia (problems with balance), seizures, coma and even death.”

Seriously, y’all. Stop it.

 

An orchid comes back from extinction

An orchid that was thought to be extinct since 2009, the serapias parviflora, has turned up in (or should that be on?) a roof garden in London. And not just one orchid: fifteen of them, blooming away as happily as if the roof of an investment bank was its natural habitat.

Can I interrupt myself for a moment? I’ve just been handed a note from the Department of Small Print. It says the flower turns out to be extinct in the UK, not on the entire planet. It’s just that–well,  you know how countries are. They have a habit of thinking they are the entire planet. Or at least ones that have or used to have power do. 

How’d the flower get onto a bank’s roof? According to one theory, seedlings could’ve blown there with dust from the Sahara. The seedlings do travel that way. According to another, the seeds could’ve been in the soil when it was brought there, ten years ago, and have just now germinated.

The garden also has London’s biggest colony of green-winged orchids.

 

81 thoughts on “What British swear word is going out of style? 

    • It’s a handy word–just transgressive enough for emphasis but still widely accepted. I use it myself occasionally, although it must sound odd in the middle of my very American accent.

      I don’t know that the corpus allowed the study to break usage down by age. I somehow doubt it.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It was probably in the study but didn’t make it into the articles about it. And I confess, I didn’t read the study. It’s in that sad also-ran category, I guess, having dropped down the ranks some longish time ago. It must be hard for a well-used word to see all that glory drop away.

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        • I hadn’t thought about dictionaries updating the way they track word usage. It seems obvious now that you say it. If you have a system that will save many people lifetimes of work–and you don’t even have to pay for it–why not use it?

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          • Just as an example…yesterday I commented , using the phrase”The Lodge”
            on a blog. Then, realising that most American readers would not know what I meant and would(very likely) turn to Google, I also googled and got multiple hits for the Masons! So I went back to the blog and explained.But hits for lodge will show Masonics first!

            Liked by 1 person

            • I’ll have to confess that you’ve stumped me too, and I’ve lived in Britain for 15 years now. My first thought was a house name–some former gatekeeper’s place. Masons didn’t come to mind. After that, I tried Cockney rhyming slang. Nope. A site that offers translations translates lodge as lodge. After that I give up. Bail me out, will you?

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  1. “Men–both in this study and in general–are more overconfident than women, and more vulnerable to false news.” That’s why we swear so bloody much.

    Did I use that word correctly? I figure if you guys don’t want it, I might was well use it. It’s a perfectly good word, and I’m usually on the thinning-out end of a trend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Interesting. I swear so much to strike yet another blow for equality. Why should men get to hog all the offensive words? But yes, as far as I can tell you used it perfectly. Mind you, I’m no expert in (a) British swearing and (b) mild swearing. And I’m on the same end of a trend as you are. If I adopt a style, you can be sure it’s on its last legs.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think I use the word Bloody, but then I say “righty-ho” non-ironically so I am not sure I can be trusted!

    I am not sure I’d want to take animal de-wormers for covid, or any other reason unless I absolutely had to… I’ll stick to good old fashioned (or modern and new fangled) vaccines and face masks!

    Also, I apologise that I haven’t been round much lately, I got a new job in fancy London and they are keen on me actually working, and commuting which make me fall asleep a lot!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As an American, I used the word “bloody” all the time as an expression of frustration until I had it explained to me it was a shortened version of swearing on Christ’s blood. My baptist/Bible church guilt kicked in and I quit using it. Now I’m a Methodist, and I’m a little conflicted. I do not use God’s name for profanity, ever, but I don’t think the average American sees a connection; it’s simply a British expression here, like “blimey”. Please don’t tell me that has sacred connotations, leave me something, please.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I was never sure why ‘bloody’ was considered a swear word in the first place. I grew up in a household with a Scottish dad who regularly exclaimed “bloody hell” and we never thought it was taboo. Of course, I’ve never heard him say “Fuck”–that would be so weird. It amazes both my parents that I swear like a sailor:-)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Being American I think I’ll start using Bloody to see if I can get it to take hold on the other side of the pond. (although I’m not quite sure why it’s considered profanity – afraid to google search it as I don’t know what havoc it could wreak on my laptop)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Another wrinkle: People who *need* treatment for COVID are already much weaker than the average person (most of us hardly felt the need for an extra Vitamin C) so I can understand doctors’ hesitation to try *any*thing. It’s such an all-or-nothing disease, and those whose fevers shoot up are such a minority. Really it’s hard to recommend anything *but* trying to protect them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I see articles regularly on drugs that can be or already are being used as treatments. I have the impression that the doctors have a better toolkit now than they did at the start of the pandemic and that they don’t need to try unproven and questionable remedies. That doesn’t mean they can cure everyone (sadly, it’s not a Star Trek episode). I tend not to include them in my Covid posts because, frankly, a lot of the information goes over my head and I don’t feel I can do them justice.

        For what it’s worth, a recent article talked about a minority of people who end up hospitalized who don’t have some underlying vulnerability–the ones, the article said, who doctors look at and wonder, What are you doing here?

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      • As a child of the 1950’s parental and school discipline, coupled with living in a small community and only the BBC to show the wider world limited exposure to swear words – apart from bugger and bloody I don’t recall hearing anything else as a child. Then college and the workplace and leaving home gave exposure to cruder, more sexually offensive language but by then, with the odd lapse, my pre-conditioning held my tongue, mostly! The bottom line – I wouldn’t have dared swear in front of my long late Mum – and if I had elsewhere she would have got to hear of it – even now I’d feel I’d let her down.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Interesting. My mother’s approach to swearing was very different. At the point where I realized the power of swear words (I grew up in New York, so I had a luxurious amount to choose from), she tried to convince me that they worked better if you saved them for emphasis. It was a good argument, but it didn’t work.

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  6. Well thank f-word or f*** that there is some good news about orchids. It feels so symbolic of all the tiny slivers of hope for the future that we look for so we can try and pretend for a moment that climate change isn’t already past the brink. My town was one of the ones that just received a direct hit from a tornado on Wednesday so the impact of climate change is even more at the top of my mind than usual.

    I admit to taking puerile satisfaction in the Cerne Abbas giant with his massive phallus being carbon dated because of a miniscule snail.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Foramiinifora. They also helped date the extinction of the dinosaurs.

    Damn ! It seem like the Anglo-Saxons had all the fun. Or got all the blame.

    Maybe “Cernie” wasn’t mentioned earlier because a) chroniclers were too embarrassed b) they didn’t want to give the Angle Saxons credit or c) like the Nazca Lines in Peru, he could only be seen from the air ?

    The doctor promoting Ivermectin for Covid should just sod off !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cernie can be seen pretty easily from ground level. It’s possible that at various dates along the timeline the chalk lines had grown over. They do need to be cleared out and refreshed periodically. But I’d think he needed to be at least somewhat visible–and locally known–for anyone to step in and resurrect him. Embarrassed? Hard to know what the standards were in other times. Since some of the records come from a nearby abbey, they might’ve been a bit sniffy about him.

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  8. I love this post. The variety is impeccable. I will be honest and say my usage of the word fuck, bloody and shit has increased exponentially since I birthed a couple of children. Profanity is my little pieces of rock on an otherwise sheer smooth wall. No way I can get up it without some profanity. I usually mutter it under my breath but sometimes the situation calls for a shouted expletive. My two year old sometimes, I am ashamed to admit, says ‘OH FUT.’ That orchid tale is lovely. Not one, but fifteen. Really gives you hope for humanity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Working backwards: I had the same response to the orchids. We just might make it after all, appearing in some improbably rooftop garden a bit after it’s all been declared over and done.

      I think–I’m childless but have been a spare adult to enough kids that I have some sense of what it’s like–that I understand what you’re saying about profanity and childrearing. I’ve heard a lot of people say they gave up swearing after their kids were born. Or maybe that was after they started to speak. One in that category, though, told me about her toddler who was having some pronunciation problems screaming out the car window, “Look, a fire fuck!”

      Or maybe that was minus the “Look.”

      Anyway, what you’re saying strikes me as a lot more real.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I like the idea that we might just make it after all :D Ellen, as a parent whose eyes have now been open to this hidden and so-called secret world of parenting…. I think a LOT of parents lie about what they do or say. Afraid of being judged maybe. I KNOW for a fact (my mum vehemently denies it LOL) that I learned the word fuck from my mum. It was during a thunderstorm and something in the staticky air made my brother and me VERY naughty… and she said ‘Oh for FUCK’S sake go to your rooms!’. So we kept saying ‘fucks sake’ after that and she was mortified. As an adult I totally understand why she did it. Those who gave up swearing are extremely patient folk :D

        Liked by 1 person

        • Patient or repressed. Or a few of each.

          It’s funny how kids manage to spot the power of words they don’t come close to understanding, though. And how they’re drawn to them.

          The whole perfect-parent front that people feel they need to put up must be killing. When my partner worked as a family therapist, she sued to talk about good-enough parenting. Not perfect. That’s not possible. Good enough is plenty good enough. It doesn’t rule out moments of brilliance, but it’s got to be reassuring that your kids won’t be scarred by your failure to meet an impossible standard.

          Liked by 1 person

          • You’ve hit the nail on the head! Children won’t be scarred by it but there is now this narrative that adults these days are scarred because of ‘negligent’ parenting. How did an entire generation produce a scarred offspring? It gets to the point where you have to question your own ability to navigate life and not blame everything on people who tried their best (if they did, real negligent parenting is a different story lol). The perfect parent front is unhealthy! How did the lawsuit work out?

            Liked by 1 person

            • Oops. That’s should’ve been “used,” not “sued.” I always mean to proofread my comments. I never do.

              Life in general–childhood, adulthood, work, lack of work, you name it–leaves us with things we need to recover from. So I’m not of the school of thought that would tell kids (or former kids) to shut up and get over it. But the expectations put on parents these days are crazy. Parents screw up. It’s the one thing that’s guaranteed. Parenting’s hard and not a perfect science. What else could we expect?

              Liked by 1 person

  9. I always wonder where these stupid miracle cures come from. Yes, I know it’s somneone on the internet (in Russia or the mid-West) but how did they decide on ivermectin? Did they just do a quick search on animal medicines? No doctor in their right mind would go “let try this random horse drug on this seriously sick person”. It’s almost as puzzling as those people who believed that the covid vaccine would magnetise you so much you could stick non-magnetic brass keys to your skin.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You remember those random bureaucratic buzz phrase generators? You picked a work from list A, list B, and list C and you ended up with a convincing, meaningless bureaucratic phrase. I wonder if they’re not chosen but some algorithm that works basically the same way.

      Like

  10. I like the Irish way of denoting that fuck (or feck) is either a swear word or an adjective depending upon its positioning. “when talking about passing the potatoes for example, if placed before passing it was swearing and if before potatoes it was simply an adjective.

    PS: Love Hydrangeas :)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Now that’s fascinating. And now that you say it, I can hear the difference. Put it before the verb, and it sounds angry at the person who hasn’t already passed them. Shift it to the right and it fades into the background a bit.

      Thanks for that bit of linguistic intelligence.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. All foreign swearwords appeal to Americans just because they sound exotic and might not be caught by parents/teachers/censor-bots. I liked “bloody” in high school; in college a British friend explained that it’s serious swearing because it means “by Our Lady,” which used to trigger religious disputes. Makes as much sense as “drat” meaning “God rot” and “zounds” meaning “by God’s wounds” and so on, but why those other words don’t perturb older people so much I don’t know. But I did stop saying “bloody” as a point of international good will.

    2 more data points:

    At home the siblings and I used to use words for “bad things” as “bad words”: “Oh SCHOOL!” and “Well COACH you!” (Coach Smith, God rest him, was trying to push my brother from cross-country toward football. Both of us were quiet; neither was easily pushed.)

    As an adult I sometimes think in what’s sometimes called “mild profanity, an occasional ‘damn’,” which was the kind of thing Dad used to say, but it was Army Language and only veterans were supposed to use it in our house. I really do say “dang” and sometimes, if really annoyed, “dang BLAST” or “dash, drat, AND bother”–except a couple of times in my life, once on my blog, when I’ve felt angry enough to construct a real Irish Curse.

    (Why this WordPress site seems to recognize me today, and the one that recognized me all last winter doesn’t, I’ve no idea.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • WordPress, like god, moves in mysterious ways. The only difference between them is that the people who believe in one don’t believe in the other.

      Sorry. Hope I didn’t go over the line there. I do try to respect other people’s religions, but for a gleefully nonreligious person it’s often hard to know where the line between respect and self-expression is. Whatever the answer is, it’s not a simple one.

      The approach to swearing that you worked out as kids is impressive, and a reminder that swearing is defined not by anything inherent but by the power we attribute to a set of words. “Coach you” has a convincing ring. If I heard it, I’d understand completely.

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  12. Well, if you want to knock ivermectin as a way to treat or prevent COVID, you bloody may. It will be one of the reasons why the UK and the U.S. will continue to lead in COVID deaths and outbreaks. I am glad other countries, and some doctors in the U.S., have more sense and go with what the science says works. Following are just some of the studies. I personally know several people who were treated with the drug and overcame COVID easily vs. the ones who did not and were severely sick for at least three weeks.

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8088823/

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33065103/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the links, and you got me to look further than I had. I’m not a convert, but I am taking you seriously. To quote an overview article in Nature (link below), “Data on ivermectin’s efficacy against COVID-19 in people are still scarce, and study conclusions conflict greatly.” One major trial was withdrawn amid accusations of data manipulation and plagiarism.

      The article goes on to say, “The paper’s withdrawal is not the first scandal to dog studies of ivermectin and COVID-19. . . . Many of the other ivermectin trial papers that he has scanned are likely to be flawed or statistically biased. Many rely on small sample sizes or were not randomized or well controlled, he says. And in 2020, an observational study of the drug was withdrawn after scientists raised concerns about it and a few other papers using data by the company Surgisphere that investigated a range of repurposed drugs against COVID-19.”
      https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-02081-w

      If it turns out to be useful, wonderful! But I’m not ready to jump on the bandwagon. The sample of people you know is moving but with a disease that affects different people so differently could be random chance.

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  13. I hear you. If you look further – on several medical publication sites – you will find many more studies. These are just a few. Argentina and Japan have also done some. It was the Japanese one that caught my attention, and from there it just blew up. Not to mention, several African countries are having strong success with it; however, I believe they do not want to publicize it for fear of pressure from the western and therefore are remaining quiet. I am of the opinion that it works well on the original COVID and is being shut down because it is no longer patent and therefore big pharma cannot make money off it. With this being said, I am waiting to see how it can respond to the new variants out there. It might turn out to be quite useless against them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m no fan of the pharmaceutical industry, or of the power of big money to influence politics. But–I’m not talking about you but a lot of what I read and hear–a lot of people are using that as an excuse to embrace the untried, the unproven, the unlikely. Until I see evidence that the pharmaceutical companies have shut it down because it doesn’t pay, I’m not prepared to take that as a given. It’s not easy to shut down anything as complex and widespread as scientific research. The oil companies have been trying, and they’ve done a great job of raising doubts but they haven’t suppressed the evidence. Enough authoritative sources are saying that the evidence is thin that, at least for the time being, I’m listening to them.

      And with all that out of the way, I appreciate the way you’re approaching the topic. Damn, it’s hard to have a friendly disagreement these days.

      Like

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