The Full Wiki

More info on profanity

profanity: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


s, profanity is often depicted by substituting symbols for words, as a form of non-specific censorship.]]

The original meaning of the adjective profane (Latin: "in front of", "outside the temple") referred to items not belonging to the church, e.g. "The fort is the oldest profane building in the town, but the local monastery is older, and is the oldest sacred building," or "besides designing churches, he also designed many profane buildings".

As a result, "profane" and "profanity" has therefore come to describe a word, expression, gesture, or other social behavior which is socially constructed or interpreted as insulting, rude and vulgar or desecrating or showing disrespect.[1]

Other words commonly used to describe profane language or its use include: cuss, curse, derogatory language, swearing, expletive, oath, bad word, dirty word, strong language, irreverent language, obscene language, choice words, and blasphemous language. In many cultures it is less profane for an adult to curse than it is for a child, who may be reprimanded for cursing.


Types of swearing

Steven Pinker's book The Stuff of Thought breaks profanity down into five categories:

  • Dysphemistic swearing – Exact opposite of euphemism. Forces listener to think about negative or provocative matter. Using the wrong euphemism has a dysphemistic effect. (Example: He fucks her!)
  • Abusive swearing – for abuse or intimidation or insulting of others (Example: You motherfucking son of a bitch! Fuck you, asshole.)
  • Idiomatic swearing – swearing without really referring to the matter. just using the words to arouse interest, to show off, and express to peers that the setting is informal. (Example: Fuck, man)
  • Emphatic swearing – to emphasize something with swearing. (Example: It was so fucking big!)
  • Cathartic swearing – when something bad happens like coffee spilling, people curse. One evolutionary theory asserts it is meant to tell the audience that you're undergoing a negative emotion[citation needed]. (Example: Aww, fucker!, Damn this coffee)

According to Pinker, the content of profane language can also be broken into five categories of negative emotion:

  • The Supernatural – Evokes emotions of awe & fear. (Examples: damn, hell, Christ)
  • Bodily effluvia & organs – Evokes disgust, since effluvia are major disease vectors. (Examples: shit, piss, asshole)
  • Disease, Death, & Infirmity – Evokes dread, fear of death or disability. These are words which are normally avoided or treated euphemistically. (Examples: The pestilence and pox on you!, A plague on both your houses!)
  • Sexuality – Evokes images of revulsion at depravity. Profanity of a sexual nature conjures images of illegitimate or exploitive sexuality, jealousy, etc. (Examples: fuck, cunt, prick, pussy)
  • Disfavoured people or groups – Evokes hatred and contempt. Such groups include infidels, the disabled, enemies, or subordinated groups. (Examples: gimp, fatso, fag, kike, nigger, cracker, coon, raghead, chink, gook)


A profanity will have an original meaning (which may change across time and language) which in itself may give some cause for offense. Additionally, many profanities will have applied meanings of their own, usually associated to their context and which therefore may vary significantly depending upon the intended purpose of the word in the sentence. For example, "fuck", a common (often considered strong) profanity in English, is a verb for the act of sexual intercourse and may be used literally in this sense. It is also used in the context of an exclamation for example ("Holy fuck!") or ("Fucking bastard!") ("I'll fucking kill you!") often to refer to acts of violence ("He really fucked that guy up.") or to an error ("You fucked up again, you're fired.") ("Damn motherfucker! Look what I have done!") or ("Holy motherfucking fuck. That's fucked up"). It can also be used to add emphasis to a sentence. The degree to which a profanity is offensive relies upon how the use of the word affects an individual. Some will consider the original meaning of a word (for example, the sexual act) to be offensive or a subject not fit for polite conversation while others will have no objection to these subject matters. Some will feel that certain words, having an established social taboo are simply offensive, regardless of any context; others will only find profanities offensive when used in a way deliberately intended to offend.

Furthermore, some may be in the habit of using profanity in order to seem cool. Thus, insults can even be used as terms of endearment ("I love you, you dumb fuck.") Other situations in which profanity is celebrated include poetic slanging matches, or flytings, in which skill in the employment of vituperative attack becomes a virtue and considerable linguistic license is given to the combatants.

A 2007 peer reviewed study by the University of East Anglia found that banning profanity in the workplace and reprimanding staff for using it could have a negative effect on morale and motivation. According to the study, while swearing in front of senior staff or customers should be seriously discouraged or banned, in other circumstances it helped foster solidarity among employees and relieved frustration, stress or other feelings.[2]

Finally, profanities may cause offense, regardless of context, if they have some religious meaning which may cause their use to offend those who follow a particular religion. The original meaning of the term was restricted to blasphemy, sacrilege or saying the Abrahamic God's name (or an identifier such as Lord or God) in vain, such as "Jesus Christ, that was close!". Such religious profanity is referred to as blasphemy.

As the concept of profanity has been extended to include expressions with scatological, derogatory, racist, sexist, or sexual interpretations, the broader concept of "politically incorrect" language has emerged, with religious meaning playing a varying role, and the more vague and inclusive interpretation blurring the distinction between categories of offensiveness. This modern concept of profanity has evolved differently in different cultures and languages. For example, many profanities in Canadian French are a corruption of religious terminology (the sacres), while many English obscenities tend to refer to sexuality or scatology. Japanese has profanities derived from sexual and scatological terms, but none from religious language. A term that functions as a profanity in one language may often lack any profane quality when translated into another language.

Western history

Terms of profanity have historically been taboo words, because of a person's reaction to hearing such an unaccepted term. Some words that were originally considered profane have become much less offensive with the increasing secularity of society. Others, primarily racial or ethnic epithets, can be considered part of hate speech and are now considered more profane than they once were.

William Shakespeare hinted at the word cunt in Hamlet, Twelfth Night and Henry V: Hamlet makes reference to "country matters" when he tries to lay his head in Ophelia's lap; Malvolio has the salacious line (although the term cunt was an accepted euphemism for vagina in the early sixteenth century[citation needed]) "These be her very c's, her u's, and her t's, and thus she makes her great p's"; and the French Princess Katherine is amused by the word gown for its similarity to the French con[citation needed]. Interestingly, the word cunt, while retaining its original meaning in America, has changed in meaning somewhat in Great Britain in the past thirty years. Where American usage of the word mostly refers to either female anatomy or (in extreme cases) an ill-tempered woman, cunt in the UK has attained the status of a gender-neutral insult.

In the U.S. today, racial slurs are uniquely profane words in that they are considered highly offensive and hurtful. This is most clearly shown in the attention given to use of the word nigger, now effectively banned in American public discourse, and although many African-Americans use the word nigga context is very important; thus, Americans of African descent might use 'nigger' in informal situations among themselves, without being considered offensive. However, blacks are now becoming more sensitive to the word being used even amongst themselves and may still be offended. The word in mention, in certain social groups, as a casual reference to black people is still in frequent use. Some mistakenly associate the unrelated word niggardly (meaning "stingy") with 'nigger." [3] As with other types of profanity,[citation needed] words such as faggot and fag, though incidentally sexual in nature, are considered highly offensive and derogatory toward gay people, yet have undergone similar changes to nigga when being used by the gay community. The most famous example of this is prominent sex advice columnist Dan Savage originally having his readers send letters with the salutation "Hey Faggot".[citation needed]

Many of the words now considered most 'profane' are held to be so because they were created to insult and disparage a particular group (see pejorative terms). Some of the targets of these words have however attempted to reclaim them and reduce their power as insults. Other ethnic slurs like coon, porch monkey, spear chucker, spade, spook, tar baby, darkie (African-American), paki, dottie (Indian/Pakistani), chink, gook (Asian), beaner, wetback, spic, greaser (Hispanic-American), guinea, wop, greaseball, dago (Italian), honky, gringo, cracker (Caucasian), kike, hymie, heeb (Jewish), kraut, jerry (German—used especially during World War II), sand nigger, raghead, towelhead, rug merchant, dune coon(Sikh, or Arab in the US); and pejoratives like fattie, retard, and redneck or hillbilly aren't entirely profane at all times, but can be considered very offensive when used in the company of certain people, and not socially acceptable in polite settings or social situations.

The offensiveness or perceived intensity or vulgarity of the various profanities can change over time, with certain words becoming more or less offensive as time goes on. For example, in modern times the word piss is usually considered mildly vulgar and somewhat impolite, whereas the King James Bible unblushingly employs it where modern translators would prefer the word urine (2 Kings 18:27; Isa 36:12) or urinate (1 Sam 25:22, 25:34; 1 Kings 14:10, 16:11, 21:21; 2 Kings 9:8). The word cunt has seen a similar evolution; its ancestor—queynte—was not considered vulgar at all, but the word is now considered among the most offensive in the English language.

Profanity as blasphemy

The original meaning of the term was restricted to blasphemy, sacrilege or saying God's name (or an identifier such as "Lord" or "God") in vain. In other words, "Oh my God" is often viewed as unaccepted or offensive amongst adherents of the Abrahamic religions. Profanity represented secular indifference to religion or religious figures, while blasphemy was a more offensive attack on religion and religious figures, and considered sinful.

Profanities in the original meaning of blasphemous profanity are part of the ancient tradition of the comic cults, which laughed and scoffed at the deity or deities.[4][5] An example from Gargantua and Pantagruel is "Christ, look ye, its Mere de ... merde ... shit, Mother of God."[6] Another example is:God damn or God Damnit.


The relative severity of various British profanities, as perceived by the public, was studied on behalf of the British Broadcasting Standards Commission, Independent Television Commission, BBC and Advertising Standards Authority; the results of this jointly commissioned research were published in December 2000 in a paper called "Delete Expletives". It listed the profanities in order of decreasing severity, the top ten being cunt, motherfucker, fuck, wanker, nigger, bastard, prick, bollocks, arsehole, and paki in that order. About 83% of respondents regarded cunt as "very severe"; 16% thought the same about shit and 10% about crap. Only about 1% thought cunt was "not swearing"; 9% thought the same about shit and 32% of crap.

International auxiliary languages

Distinct international auxiliary languages usually apply different strategies to coin or borrow profane words and expressions.

In Interlingua, the fundamental criterion for inclusion is widespread international use, and this can be as true of a profanity as any other word or phrase. Thus, expressions such as cunno (cunt), merda (shit), and pipi (pee-pee) may be used in Interlingua. Culo (ass or butt) and its derivative incular (to butt-fuck) are also Interlingua expressions. Futer (to fuck) is used much as in English, e.g., "Fute te!" ("Fuck you!") or "Mi automobile es futite!" ("My car is fucked!").

Books containing famous uses of profanity

See also


  1. ^ "Definition of Profane", emphasis on original, Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, retrieved on June 5, 2007.
  2. ^ Swearing at work boosts team spirit, morale October 17, 2007
  3. ^ For example, in a highly publicized incident in 1999, the mayor of Washington, D.C., Anthony A. Williams, pressed for the resignation of his staff member, David Howard, because Howard used the word "niggardly" in a private staff meeting (Washington Post).
  4. ^ Bakhtin 1941, "introduction", p.5-6
  5. ^ Meletinsky, Eleazar Moiseevich The Poetics of Myth (Translated by Guy Lanoue and Alexandre Sadetsky) 2000 Routledge ISBN 0415928982 p.110
  6. ^ François Rabelais, Gargantua book, chap. XVII; Mere de and merde has a close sound to "mierda" which means "shit" when translated from Spanish. Full text of Chapter 16, Rabelais and His World at Google Books.
  7. ^ Ellmann, Richard (1982). James Joyce. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 502–04. ISBN 0-1950-3103-2. 
  8. ^ "Art or trash? It makes for endless, debate that cant be won". The Topeka Capital-Journal. 1997-10-06. Retrieved on 2007-12-20. "Another perennial target, J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye," was challenged in Maine because of the "f" word." 
  9. ^ Ben MacIntyre (2005-09-24). "The American banned list reveals a society with serious hang-ups". The Times.,,923-1792974,00.html. Retrieved on 2007-12-20. 


External links

  • Urban Dictionary: A slang/profanity dictionary with user-submitted definitions.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:




profanity (plural profanities)

  1. The quality of being profane.
    His profanity left the entire audience in shock.
  2. Obscene, lewd or abusive language.
    He ran up and down the street screaming profanities like a madman.


Simple English

Profanity is the act of using rude words. The adjective is profane. Profanities can also be called swear words, curse ("cuss") words, dirty words, bad words, foul language, obscenity or obscene language, or expletives. It can be called an oath, although this word also has a normal meaning of a "solemn promise".

Religious profanity is called blasphemy. The verb is to blaspheme and the adjective is blasphemous. Saying “God!” or “Jesus Christ!” as an expression of surprise or annoyance is considered by many people to be blasphemy, mostly because one of the Ten Commandments says not to use the Christian god's name "in vain" (without a good reason). Swearing oaths can also be considered wrong by some who follow Jesus' teaching against swearing oaths in the Gospels (such as Matt. 5:34).

A profanity usually refers to religion, sex, or bodily functions. These are things that people feel very strongly about. In some languages, such as French, there is more profanity about religion than most other topics. Russian has more about defecation and the lower digestive tract.

A profanity can be a word or gesture or some other form of behaviour.

Different words can be profanity to different people, and what words are thought of as profanity in English can change over time.

Whether a word is a profanity will always depend on the way people think. Some people will be offended by something, while others will not be. Words which should not be used are taboo words. Using such words is thought by some people to be a sin.


Opinions on profanity

Some people call profanity "crude," but some say that it is no cruder to say "damn" than "puke" (a word that is simply vulgar, but not a swear word). People who use profanity do not always mean to make anybody feel bad, and tolerance for different forms of profanity can vary widely, from person to person. Most often, using profanity is a verbal outlet for strong feelings (usually unpleasant ones), that might otherwise cause a physical reaction. At other times, some people may use profanity as humor.


Some people develop a mental condition where they use profanity constantly. This is called coprolalia. Many people wrongly think this is called Tourette's syndrome. Tourette's syndrome is actually a group of disorders that only includes coprolalia 15% of the time. The condition can be aggravated (made worse) by stress.

Common examples of profanity

Several of these words come from Anglo-Saxon or Norse names for body parts, and bodily functions. They came to be thought of as profanity mostly after the Normans brought French and Latin words for them to England.

Ass or Arse
The buttocks or "butt" (from Anglo-Saxon ears) of a human. Usages include "get your ass out of here", and "kiss my ass", which are usually considered mild. Ass also refers to donkeys, who were formerly called asses; "you are such an ass" comes from this usage.
(U.K. Arsehole) ― Anus; also used to describe an unpleasant person.
A term for a child who was born to unmarried parents, also used as an insult. Often refers to something or someone whose presence can cause trouble, or something poorly planned or made.
Testicles. Also used as an offensive term to describe something as "nonsense".
Means female dog or prostitute; but is usually a rude name for a woman who is considered unpleasant or demanding, or anyone in a servile position. Can also refer to a bad situation ("I had a bitch of a time"). Also used as a verb, meaning to complain ("they bitched about the problem"). By contrast, bitchin' (sometimes "bitchen") can mean something very good or pleasant ("a bitchin' car").
A vagina. Also used as an offensive term for a woman or man ("She's a real cunt") or "cuntface" or stupid "cunt".
A verb, meaning to condemn someone or something. It is commonly considered mild profanity, and is used to show disappointment or surprise.
A verb, meaning to have sex. Can also mean to cheat or steal from ("fuck over") someone, to interfere with ("fuck with") something or someone, or to cause harm ("fuck up"). "Fuck up" can also mean to make a mistake. It is often used as a meaningless intensifier, especially in the adverb form ("too fucking expensive"), ("What the fuck?"). Fuck is also used to describe someone under the influence of drugs and or alcohol("they're Fucked up"). A person may also be referred to as a Fuck. The many uses for fuck make it one of the most versatile words in the English language. For example, "That fuck Jonathon was so fucked up last night he fucked some fucking whore and got fucking gonorrhea. Holy fuck!"
The underworld, or a place of punishment in the afterlife for evil, according to many religions.
Jerkoff (also "jerk off")
Refers to masturbation. The noun is often written as a single word, while the verb is two words. Usually means a person who has bad priorities or reasoning, or the act of masturbating ("jerking off").
An insult that can be used for sex inside the family, but mostly used in the sense of Bastard.
An offensive word for black people. "Nigger" (or "nigga") is commonly used in popular urban black rap media, where it is used towards others in friendly or derogatory manner.
Own cake
A term for a woman's vagina.
She likes to eat her "own cake"
This term refers to urination, and can be used in the form "Piss off".
This term refers to the penis, and also as an insult for an unpleasant person.
This term refers to the vulva, and also to a weak man.
Feces; also a verb, meaning to defecate. As an exclamation, it is similar to "fuck". It can be used to refer to any object, although it is often used in reference to drugs (heroin or marijuana in particular), music, or a person's belongings. May also mean trouble, or annoyance by others ("I'm tired of this shit"). It can also mean very poor/of bad quality ("this music is shit").
A very offensive term for women (and sometimes men), similar to bitch. Usually refers to someone with loose morals, or who gives in easily to others, or puts their own gratification ahead of more important things. It is similar of calling someone a "ho" ("whore") or "tart".
Wank or wanker
See "jerkoff" above.
Often referred to as a slang of breast or to describe an unpleasant person

Profane gestures

These are mostly performed while facing another person, and can be meant toward them, or about them. These gestures are considered as strong as profane words in most cases.

Biting one's thumb
Performed by placing the tip of a thumb under the front teeth, then pulling the thumb slightly forward, with the fingers closed. Mocks the "thumbs up" gesture. Can be taken to mean "bite me", though it predates the common use of this phrase.
Grabbing one's own crotch
Also an invitation to "bite me", or to perform oral sex in a servile way.
Pretending to give fellatio
One pokes out a cheek with the tongue, while rocking a closed hand toward the mouth, at the same time. Indicates something or someone is a waste of time.
Pretending to masturbate
Indicates something or someone is a waste of time, or performs poorly.
Showing one's middle finger ("flipping the bird")
Understood generally to mean "fuck you".
Thumbing (or "fluting") one's nose
Performed by placing the tip of a thumb against the tip of the nose, then wiggling the fingers. Expresses contempt, or thinking that someone is foolish.
"Up yours"
One turns a forearm horizontally, while swinging the other fist and forearm around it. Suggests something being shoved into a person's rectum. If the middle finger is shown, it is a stronger form of "fuck you", or a suggestion of anal sex.

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address