Swearing in Modern British English: The Case of Fuck in the BNC

T. McEnery, R. Xiao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

57 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Swearing is a part of everyday language use. To date it has been infrequently studied, though some recent work on swearing in American English, Australian English and British English has addressed the topic. Nonetheless, there is still no systematic account of swear-words in English. In terms of approaches, swearing has been approached from the points of view of history, lexicography, psycholinguistics and semantics. There have been few studies of swearing based on sociolinguistic variables such as gender, age and social class. Such a study has been difficult in the absence of corpus resources. With the production of the British National Corpus (BNC), a 100,000,000-word balanced corpus of modern British English, such a study became possible. In addition to parts of speech, the corpus is richly annotated with metadata pertaining to demographic features such as age, gender and social class, and textual features such as register, publication medium and domain. While bad language may be related to religion (e.g. Jesus, heaven, hell and damn), sex (e.g. fuck), racism (e.g. nigger), defecation (e.g. shit), homophobia (e.g. queer) and other matters, we will, in this article, examine only the pattern of uses of fuck and its morphological variants, because this is a typical swear-word that occurs frequently in the BNC. This article will build and expand upon the examination of fuck by McEnery et al. (2000) by examining the distribution pattern of fuck within and across spoken and written registers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235-268
JournalLanguage and Literature
Volume13
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2004

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