‘Bloody’ no longer the UK’s most popular swear word, study suggests

Versatile four-letter word now Britain’s favourite way to swear

Andy Gregory
Friday 20 August 2021 23:15
<p>Malcolm Tucker, the foul-mouthed spin doctor in BBC’s ‘The Thick of It’, might have some choice words for such findings </p>

Malcolm Tucker, the foul-mouthed spin doctor in BBC’s ‘The Thick of It’, might have some choice words for such findings

The f-word has overtaken “bloody” as the UK’s favourite swear word, according to new research which suggests the British people have actually become less foul-mouthed.

In the past two decades, the usage of both words may have declined in casual British conversation, researchers found – with the use of “bloody” estimated to have plummeted by 80 per cent.

This left it in third place, behind “s***”, whose popularity score was undoubtedly boosted by the excessive number of potential suffixes, prefixes and derivatives it boasts, such as “–head”, “horse–” and “gobs****”.

In order to gain these new insights into the hierarchy of British swearing, Dr Robbie Love of Aston University analysed transcripts of conversations from 1994 and 2014, found in the British National Corpus of Conversation.

By sifting through more than 15 million words, Dr Love charted the use of 16 different swear words, publishing his results in Text & Talk: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies.

He found that, overall, the use of expletives reduced by more than a quarter over the 20-year period.

While the word “f***” previously accounted for 564 words per million, that fell slightly in 2014 to 542. The nation’s former favourite fell to just 128 words per million.

“S***”, however, saw a reversal in fortunes, nearly doubling in usage to hit 326 words per million.

Breakdowns by age and sex found that men remained more likely to swear than women, and that use of expletives tends to peak in a person’s 20s.

While it is “hard to say exactly” why swearing use in casual speech seems to have dropped, Dr Love said, he suggested it could be “due to shifts in what we consider to count as swearing, or that speakers perform the functions of swearing using other words that might not be considered to be taboo”.

The English language lecturer posited that our apparent fondness for the word “f***” could be down to its versatility. “It can be slotted into speech in many different syntactic positions – and it is also semantically vague (in addition to its traditional usage to refer to sex), so it can be applied in many contexts,” he told The Guardian.

He added: “Overall I think these findings have implications for how we think about the role of swearing in society.

“Despite the slight decline, swearing is still a major component of everyday conversation, and the dominance of traditionally ‘strong’ swearwords like ‘f***’ might cause us to reconsider just how strong it is, and whether there should be less censorship of such words in contexts where swearing is highly policed.”

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments