Swear words are a strange thing indeed, and everyone has their own particular views on what they can and cannot say in various situations.
Many of us are happy to throw around curses like ‘bl*ody hell’ or ‘cr*p’, but fewer are comfortable using more extreme words such as ‘f*ck’ and – of course – ‘the C word’ when out and about.
But why are some profanities considered more socially taboo than others? And which ones are officially the worst?
Luckily,Ofcom have compiled a ranking of swear words, categorising them into mild, moderate, strong and strongest.
This was part of Ofcom’s research into ‘people’s attitudes towards potentially offensive language and gestures in broadcasting,’ intended to protect viewers and in particular young viewers.
Over 200 people were quizzed as part of this research – through focus groups, in-depth interviews, online surveys and discussions – and I must admit, I have been surprised by the resulting list.
I mean, I didn’t even twig that some of the milder words were even considered to be swearing at all. So apologies in advance to all those I have been inadvertently cursing at for years.
The general swear words which have been categorised as ‘mild’ are as follows: arse, bloody, bugger, cow, crap, damn, ginger, git, god, goddam, Jesus Christ, minger (!) and sod-off. Milder words are regarded to be ‘generally of little concern’, and indeed you could merrily use many of these words in front of your nan.
Then comes the cheekier ‘medium’ curse words, which admittedly reads like a slightly fouler remix of my own early morning grumblings: arsehole, balls, bint, b*tch, b*llocks, bullsh*t, feck, munter, p*ssed/p*ssed off, sh*t, son of a b*tch and t*ts.
Medium words were regarded by Ofcom as being potentially unacceptable to broadcast before the 9pm watershed. And then we reach the strong words, where things get a little bit spicier…
‘Strong’ words are regarded to be ‘generally unacceptable pre-watershed but mostly acceptable post-watershed’, and are as follows: B*stard, Beaver, Beef curtains, B*llend, Bloodclaat, Clunge, C*ck, D*ck, D*ckhead, Fanny, Flaps, Gash, Knob, M*nge, Pr*ck, Punani, Pussy, Snatch and Tw*t.
At the top of the potty-mouthed pile were the ‘strongest’ words, of which there are only three: c*nt, f*ck and motherf*cker. Yikes. These are certainly not the sort of words you want to hear on CBBC…
These ‘strongest’ words would be considered ‘highly unacceptable pre-watershed but generally acceptable post-watershed’.
According to Ofcom:
The research found that viewers and listeners take into account context, such as the tone, delivery and time of broadcast, when assessing whether offensive language is acceptable. People says they are more likely to tolerate some swearing if it reflects what they would expect to see in ‘real world’ situations.
Clear racist and discriminatory language was the most unacceptable overall. Such words were viewed as derogatory, discriminatory and insulting. Many were concerned about them being used at any time, unless they were particularly justified by the context. Many said that discriminatory and racist words were harder hitting, carrying more emotional impact than ‘general’ swear words.
Sexual terms were seen in a similar way to the stronger general swear words. They were viewed as distasteful and often unnecessary, but people said they found them more acceptable if used after the watershed, when they would be more prepared.
Keep up the bl*ody good work Ofcom!
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Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.