British English swearing in corpora of casual conversation

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


This paper investigates changes in swearing in informal speech using large-scale corpus data, reporting on findings from two recent studies (Love, 2021; Stenström & Love, in review) comparing the use of swear words in the two editions of the Spoken British National corpus (1994 and 2014). A form and frequency analysis of a set of 16 ‘pure’ swear words is presented. The findings reveal that swearing occurrence is significantly lower in the Spoken BNC2014 but still within a comparable range to previous studies. The social distribution of swearing across gender and age groups generally supports the findings of previous research: males swear more than females, and swearing peaks in the late teens and twenties and declines thereafter. Furthermore, FUCK is found to overtake BLOODY as the most commonly used swear word. Qualitative analysis of FUCK using McEnery & Xiao’s (2004) ‘categories of insult’ scheme reveals – among teenage speakers – evidence of semantic broadening, indicative of increasingly routine usage of FUCK as a generic and idiomatic expression, with little evidence of FUCK being used as a term of abuse. Contemporary usage of FUCK may arguably be resemblant of a relatively mild swear word, offering further resolution of the ‘swearing paradox’ (Beers-Fägersten, 2007), whereby swearing frequency and offensiveness ought to be negatively correlated.
Period19 Jun 2023
Event titleSwiSca 8 / CRAP Swearing Research Symposium
Event typeSymposium
LocationUnited KingdomShow on map