Corpus-pragmatic perspectives on the contemporary weakening of fuck: The case of teenage British English conversation

Robbie Love*, Anna-Brita Stenström

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study examines the pragmatic functions of fuck among British English teenagers in casual conversation in two youth language corpora from the 1990s and 2010s. It applies a corpus-pragmatics approach to explore how the ongoing weakening of the taboo strength of fuck in the perception of young speakers is realised in usage data. The major functions observed involve a predominance of idiomatic, emphatic and emotionally expressive functions. Conversely, usage associated with potentially abusive functions, including literal reference to sexual intercourse, is infrequent. Our observations are interpreted in the context of delexicalization and related long-term diachronic processes, whereby contemporary usage of fuck among teenagers is characterised in terms of semidelexicalized, pragmatically strengthened usage with weakened taboo status. The article also evaluates the interpretation of idiomatic usage from a functional perspective, and contributes to methodological considerations of the use of spoken corpora for pragmatic research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-181
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Pragmatics
Early online date1 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2023 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier B.V. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (

Robbie Love: Methodology, Validation, Formal analysis, Investigation, Resources, Data Curation, Writing – Original Draft, Writing – Review & Editing, Visualization, Project administration.
Anna-Brita Stenström: Conceptualization, Methodology, Resources, Writing – Original Draft, Supervision.


  • Casual conversation
  • Corpus pragmatics
  • Delexicalization
  • Pragmatic strengthening
  • Swearing
  • Youth language


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