Some insults and cursing in 17th century Iceland 

Ellert Þór Jóhannsson, The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies

One of the earliest bilingual texts found in Iceland are four Basque-Icelandic glossaries that likely date back to the 17th century, although they are preserved in younger sources. During the estimated time of composition there was a substantial presence of Basque fishermen and whalers of the coasts of Iceland and these glossaries were created to facilitate communications between these foreigners and the locals.  

Three of the four known glossaries that have survived are simple word lists, i.e. individual Basque words with their Icelandic equivalents. The fourth one is more detailed as it does not only just include individual words but also some phrases in Basque and their corresponding Icelandic phrases. The attested phrases  give an insight into the nature of communication between these two groups of people. Some of the phrases are clearly practical for trading and exchange of goods whereas other phrases indicate a need for cursing and insults. These word lists and phrases provide a window into casual communication and spoken language which is generally underrepresented in literary texts. 

In this paper I’ll give an overview of the curse words and insults found in these glossaries and take a closer look at how they can be interpreted. I attempt to relate particular phrasing to some other sources from the same period and put them into context of similar figures of speech in other European languages.  

Scraping Online Dictionaries for Usage Annotations

Steven Coats, University of Oulu, Finland

Dictionaries and thesauruses, as repositories of expert knowledge of lexicographers, can be valuable sources of information on usage norms for potentially offensive lexical items. Scripts in Python can be used to conduct targeted scrapes of dictionaries or other online lexicographical sources of information by harvesting the content of html tags containing usage annotations such as ‘swear word,’ ‘derogatory,’ ‘vulgar,’ ‘term of abuse,’ or similar. This paper describes how scraping of usage annotations was undertaken in Coats (2021) for the Icelandic Íslensk nútímamálsorðabók, the Norwegian Det Norske Akademis Ordbok, the Danish Den danske Ordbog, the Swedish Svensk Ordbok, the Swedish Wikitionary, and the Finnish Kieltitoimiston sanakirja. It also discusses a few possibilities for targeted scrapes of in the Wiktionaries of different languages and offers perspectives on how they can be useful for multilingual approaches to the study of “bad language”.



Coats, Steven. (2021). 'Bad language' in the Nordics: profanity and gender in a social media corpus. Acta Linguistica Hafniensia. DOI: 10.1080/03740463.2021.1871218


Swearing in Danish reality series Ex on the beach

Marianne Rathje, The Danish Language Council, Denmark

The study of swear words in young people's spoken language has for several years been a neglected area within Danish language research. This presentations deals with the use of swear words in the reality show Ex on the beach broadcasted in Denmark 2018-2019. A result is that young people swear more than in previous Danish studies, and that the proportion of English swear words seems to be increasing. The study also shows that women in Ex on the beach swear just as much as men and even with stronger swear words, which contradicts previous research showing that men swear more frequently and with stronger swear words than women (e.g. McEnery & Xiao 2004, Jay 1992, Jay & Jay 2013, Beers Fägersten 2012, Quist 2012, Rathje 2017, Bednarek 2008, 2010, Stroh-Wollin 2014). Finally, in the presentation I will show how swear words among young people in Ex on the beach is a social phenomenon that can be used both to form bonds and to consolidate a clique in contrast to the rest of the participants.




Bednarek, Monika 2008: “‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ A Corpus Perspective on Evaluation and Emotion in Contemporary American Pop Culture.” Ahmar Mahboob & Naomi Knight (eds.) Questioning Linguistics. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.  95-126.

Bednarek, Monika 2010: The Language of Fictional Television: Drama and Identity. London: Continuum.

Beers Fägersten, Kristy 2012: Who's Swearing Now? The Social Aspects of Conversational Swearing. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Jay, Timothy 1992: Cursing in America. Philadelphia/Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Jay, Kristin & Timothy Jay 2013: “A Child's Garden of Curses: A Gender, Historical, and Age-Related Evaluation of the Taboo Lexicon.” American Journal of Psychology 1264. 459-475.

McEnery, Tony & Zhonghua Xiao 2004: “Swearing in Modern British English: The Case of fuck in the BNC.” Language and Literature 13 (3). 235-268.

Quist, Pia 2012: Stilistisk praksis. Unge og sprog i den senmoderne storby. København: Museum Tusculanum.

Rathje, Marianne 2017: Swearing in Danish Children’s Television Series. Kristy Beers Fägersten & Karyn Stapleton (eds). Advances in Swearing Research: New languages and new contexts. John Benjamins Publishing Company. Pragmatics and Beyond New Series, volume 282. 17-42.

Stroh-Wollin, Ulla 2014: In the Company of the Devil and Our Lord through Three Centuries. Swearing in Swedish Dramas. Marianne Rathje (ed.) Swearing in the Nordic Countries. Copenhagen: Dansk Sprognævns Konferenceserie 2. 175-198.”


From D’oh! to Don’t fuck it up.
The evolution of swearing in television catchphrases

Kristy Beers Fägersten, Södertörn University
Monika Bednarek, The University of Sydney

Catchphrases have long been a hallmark of US-American sit-coms and dramas, as well as reality, game, and variety show programming. Because the phenomenon of the television catchphrase developed throughout the era of network, commercial broadcasting under FCC guidelines regulating profanity in network television, catchphrases traditionally have not included swear words. Nevertheless, some past television catchphrases can be regarded as euphemistic alternatives of swearing expressions (e.g., “Kiss my grits!”), while contemporary catchphrases from cable or streaming series include explicit swearing (“Don’t fuck it up!”). In this paper, we examine a database of 168 popular catchphrases from a 70-year period of US-American television programming according to McEnery’s (2005) categories for bad language and Culpeper’s (2011) impoliteness formulae. We identify three categories of catchphrases based on structural-functional similarities to swearing expressions, and we trace the distribution of these categories over time and across networks. The data reveal a trend towards explicit swearing in catchphrases over time, not only in series on cable and streaming services, but across networks. We conclude that the expressive nature of catchphrases and their structural-functional properties render the inclusion of swear words both more palatable to a television audience and more compatible with television norms, thus propagating catchphrase swearing on cable and streaming television services, and mitigating the use of swear words on network television. Due to appropriation phenomena, swearing catchphrases may serve to blur the lines between actually swearing and simply invoking a swearing catchphrase, thereby increasing tolerance for swearing both on television and off.


The structure of swearing in Icelandic

Ásta Svavarsdóttir, The Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies

In the paper, I will discuss the structural features of swearing, both at the morphological and the (morpho)syntactic level: Where do Icelandic swearwords come from and what is their internal structure? What is the phrasal and sentential context and function of swearwords? Do swearwords show any inflectional peculiarities? The focus will be on traditional Icelandic swearing as it appears in sources since the 19th century onwards. In recent decades new, mainly borrowed, swearwords have emerged, and I will compare the syntactic structures in which they appear to the older ones, especially considering if the old and new items are used in similar constructions or if their syntactic context is somehow different.


Express yourself!
What happens when concepts are cursed

Stanley Alexander Donahoo, University of Arizona

A major goal of cognitive neuroscience is to understand the neural basis of behaviours that are fundamental to human intelligence. To this aim, aspects of neurolinguistic research specifically probe one of these essential behaviours: The ability to integrate conceptual knowledge from semantic memory, allowing humans to construct an infinite number of complex concepts during behaviour from a limited set of relatively basic constituents in memory (e.g. the concepts black and dog can be combined to form a more complex representation, black dog). Here, I use a novel approach to studying integrative processing in semantic memory: applying electrophysiological methods to an understudied facet of language—expressives (swears). Expressive adjectives uniquely convey speaker attitude and can be flexibly applied locally to their adjacent noun, or globally to the whole sentence (e.g., damn in Tom lost the damn dog describes frustration with the situation or the dog). The findings of this approach demonstrate that expressives cannot be represented by a bidimensional emotion framework of valence and arousal alone. Instead, they involve a social nature of tabooness, which affects their representation and processing. Overall, this research provides additional perspectives on the mental representations of language and organization of the mental lexicon, with particular focus on understanding the role of human neurobiology in shaping the various components of our capacities that are involved in swearing. More broadly, these studies touch on our understanding of the influence of social meaning on the semantic-pragmatic boundary. Integrating both formal and social analysis into one cohesive model of communication represents a new frontier in language research, one which offers new insights on what meaning is, as complexly encoded in the human mind. These results thus contribute a new data set for probing our understanding of the central properties of how language is processed in the brain.


Effect of swearing on strength:
Disinhibition as a potential mediator

Richard Stephens, Katie Atkins, Amber Barrie, Harry Dowber, Sannida Almeida, Ciaran Murphy,
Nat Maginnis, School of Psychology, Keele University, United Kingdom

Introduction: Swearing fulfils positive functions including benefitting pain relief and physical strength. Here we present three experiments assessing a possible psychological mechanism, increased state disinhibition, for the effect of swearing on physical strength. 

Method: Three repeated measures experiments were carried out with sample sizes N=56, N=63 and N=118. All three included the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART) to measure risky behaviour. Experiments 1 and 3 included measures of physical performance assessing, respectively, grip and arm strength. The pre-registered Experiment 3 additionally assessed flow, self-confidence, anxiety, emotion including humour, and distraction including novelty.

Results: Experiments 1 and 3 found that repeating a swear word benefitted physical strength and increased risky behaviour, but risky behaviour did not mediate the strength effect. Experiment 2 showed no effect of listening to an audio track of a repeated swear word. Experiment 3 found that repeating a swear word increased flow, self-confidence, positive emotion, humour and distraction. Humour mediated the effect of swearing on physical strength. 

Discussion: Consistent effects of swearing on physical strength indicate that this is a reliable effect. The mediating effect of humour is consistent with a hot cognitions explanation of swearing-induced state disinhibition. Further pre-registered experimental research including validated measures of humour is required to verify this effect. 


The lexeme ho(e) in African American rap:
A corpus-based study

Radosław Dylewski and Marta Małaczek, Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań

Rap lyrics are replete with words and terms deem vulgar. Among those one can find terms which are used to refer to/denote women (hoes, bitches, pussies). However, in a similar vein to the n-word, which has undergone semantic bleaching in African American English (at least in certain contexts), some terms of the kind have started to acquire neural (if not positive) denotations. An example of such a word might be the lexeme ho(e), whose meanings in the Green Dictionary of Slang 1range from “a prostitute”, “a promiscuous or seductively dressed young woman” or “an unfriendly person” to “a girlfriend” or “a generic term describing any woman [ostensibly neutral, but the undertones of its ety. still make it controversial]” (s.v. ho)

In the present paper we would like to test empirically how and when the usage of the said word as well as its perception changed in the last four decades; more specifically, from the beginning of the 1980s, when rap music gained acceptance outside ghetto neighborhoods, up until the second decade of the 20th century. In order to achieve the abovementioned goal, the authors (1) compiled and scrutinized a corpus of both male and female rappers of African American provenience and (2) prepared and distributed a survey, whose aim was to check the present-day perception of the word ho(e) by Americans. The corpus study aimed at finding how African American rappers used the word and how/if the usage changed throughout the decades. The data obtained from the survey, as indicated above, were used to check to what extent is the term still controversial.

Preliminary results obtained from the corpus indicate that ho(e) was preponderantly used in ‘negative contexts’ (which is greatly indicated by collocations with such quantifiers as dumb, lame, or fake-ass) by African American rappers. Additionally, statistical analysis of the survey responses showed that the term is still perceived as an insult by the majority of informants (83%); however, interestingly, more non-African Americans than African Americans perceive ho(e) as a generic term used in reference to any woman.

Selected bibliography:

Garncarz, Michał. 2013. African American hip hop slang. Wrocław: Oficyna Wydawnicza ATUT.

Green, Lisa J. 2002. African American English: A linguistic introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Greene, Jasmin S. 2008. Beyond money, cars, and women: Examining black masculinity in hip hop culture. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Iandoli, Kathy. 2019. God save the queens: The essential history of women in hip-hop. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
Major, Clarence. 1994. From juba to jive: A dictionary of African-American slang. New York: Penguin Books.

Sharpley-Whiting, T. Denean. 2007. Pimps up, hoes down: Hip hop’s hold on young black women. New York: New York University Press.

Tyree, Tia C. M. “Lovin’ momma and hatin’ on baby mama: a comparison of misogynistic and stereotypical representations in songs about rappers’ mothers and baby mamas”, Women and Language 32, 2: 50-58.


Cursing vocabulary and its relation to the history of mentalities

Ruth Vatvedt Fjeld

The vocabulary of cursing has changed through history in accordance with the relevant mental ideas or taboos at a particular time. In this paper I will try to investigate which mental ideas are hidden behind the different taboo words and why a curse word’s popularity changes over time.


Where does swearing get its power?
Introducing and scoping a large-scale survey

Karyn Stapleton, Ulster University, UK

Kristy Beers Fägersten, Södertörn University, Sweden

Richard Stephens, Keele University, UK

Catherine Loveday, University of Westminster, UK

Swearing has been shown to produce a range of powerful effects, which are not routinely achieved by other language forms or uses. These range from particular interpersonal and sociolinguistic functions (Stapleton, 2010; Beers Fägersten 2012; Beers Fägersten and Stapleton, 2017) to enhanced memory and recall (Jay et al., 2008; Ayçiçegi-Dinn and Caldwell-Harris, 2009); and from emotional force/arousal (Dewaele 2010) to pain relief and increased stamina (Stephens et al., 2009, 2018). Research in neuropsychology and bio-physiology further underlines the powerful effects of swearing, with evidence of increased autonomic activity, such as heart rate and skin conductance (Harris et al., 2003; Stephens et al., 2009) and indeed, activation of different parts of the brain from those used in other language use (Vingerhoets et al., 2013; Finkelstein, 2018).

Despite these and related findings, surprisingly little is known about the source of this power. We do not know with any degree of certainty where swear words acquire their emotional and psychological power for individual speakers, and thus, for larger societal groupings. One commonly accepted theory is that children learn to associate swearing with negative experiences, having received punishments for swearing in childhood (see Jay et al., 2006; Jay and Jay, 2013), and that this in turn, generates emotional arousal on hearing/using swear words in later life. However, to date, there is a lack of detailed empirical evidence for how such a process might take place. In addition, the role of memory/reminiscence requires further investigation, as well as that of lifelong associative learning, and the fact that some uses of swearing are as likely to have been rewarded as punished, depending on the context and interlocutors. We hypothesise that the emotional force (power) of swear words is gained through a process of associative learning in childhood and early adolescence, a time when experiences are likely to be strongly encoded for later recall, and that it may be modified (although probably not fundamentally) through subsequent encounters and experiences. The role of memory in creating personal meanings (Conway and Loveday, 2014; Loveday et al., 2020) will underpin this aspect of the investigation.

This paper will present an introduction to and scoping of a planned large-scale survey investigation into these core issues, for which we are currently seeking grant funding. Key theoretical issues, research questions and survey protocols will be detailed in the presentation; and we will strongly welcome discussion and comment from SwiSca members.  



Ayçiçegi-Dinn, A. and Caldwell-Harris, C.L. (2009). ‘Emotion-memory effects in bilingual speakers: A levels-of-processing approach’. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 12 (3): 291-303.

Beers Fägersten, K. (2012). Who’s Swearing Now? The social aspects of conversational swearing. Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishers.

Beers Fägersten, K. and Stapleton, K. (2017). ‘Introduction: Swearing research as variations on a theme’. In K. Beers Fägersten and K. Stapleton (eds). Advances in Swearing Research: New languages and new contexts (pp. 1-15). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Conway, M.A. and Loveday, C. (2015). ‘Remembering, imagining, false memories and personal meanings’. Consciousness and Cognition 33: 574-58.

Dewaele, J-M. (2004). ‘The emotional force of swearwords and taboo words in the speech of multilinguals’. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 25 (2/3) 204-219.

Dewaele, J.-M. (2013). Emotions in Multiple Languages (2nd edition). Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Finkelstein, S.R. (2018). ‘Swearing and the brain’. In K. Allan (ed). The Oxford Handbook of Taboo Words and Language (pp. 108-139). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Harris, C.L., Aycicegi, A. and Gleason, J.B. (2003). ‘Taboo words and reprimands elicit greater autonomic reactivity in a first language than in a second language’. Applied Psycholinguistics 24 (4): 561-579.

Jay, K. and Jay, T. (2013). ‘A child’s garden of curses: A gender, historical, and age-related evaluation of the taboo lexicon’. The American Journal of Psychology 126 (4): 459-475.

Jay, T., Caldwell-Harris, C. and King, K. (2008). ‘Recalling taboo and non-taboo words’. The American Journal of Psychology 121 (1): 83-103.

Jay, T., King, K. and Duncan, T. (2006). ‘Memories of punishment for cursing’. Sex Roles 55 (1): 123-133.

Loveday, C., Woy, A. and Conway, M.A. (2020). ‘The self-defining period in autobiographical memory: Evidence from a long-running radio show’. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 73 (11): 1969-1976.

Stapleton, K. (2010). ‘Swearing’. In M. Locher and S.L. Graham (eds).  Interpersonal Pragmatics (The Handbook of Pragmatics, Vol. 6) (pp. 289-305) Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Stephens R., Atkins J. and Kingston A. (2009). ‘Swearing as a response to pain’. NeuroReport 20 (12): 1056-1060.

Stephens, R., Spierer, D.K. and Katehis, E. (2018). ‘Effect of swearing on strength and power performance’. Psychology of Sport and Exercise 35: 111-117.

Vingerhoets, A., Bylsma, L. and De Vlam, C. (2013). ‘Swearing: A biopsychosocial perspective’. Psychological Topics 22 (2): 287-304.


Teasing out the social distinctions of the borrowing
oh my god in Finnish

Elizabeth Peterson, University of Helsinki

The phrase oh my god is an English-sourced exclamation, a mild swear word, which has entered into many receiving languages as an outcome of pragmatic borrowing (Andersen, 2014). This seemingly ubiquitous borrowed element is observed across languages and social groups, apparently in variation with native forms that already exist in a given speech community (Peterson, 2017). This presentation explores the social nuances of oh my god in the borrowing/receiving community, based on data from a modified audio matched guise experiment conducted on Finnish speakers in Finland in 2018. The experiment made use of three recorded voices: a middle-aged man, a middle-aged woman and a teen-aged girl who uttered the same Finnish sentence containing the target borrowing oh my god. These voice recordings were distributed as part of an online survey which was ultimately answered by 445 people in Finland. The resulting data was modeled using linear-mixed model regression. The model shows that oh my god is more indexical of a middle-aged woman’s voice than a teenage girl or a middle-aged man's voice. The phrase oh my god was especially disfavored for use with a male voice. Further, the model showed a wide range of variation in the acceptability of the test phrase, illuminated further through written assessments from the participants. While there were no statistical differences for age or education level, the written responses demonstrate that the phrase is perceived as being part of an urban style, and as a system in flux. The results thus demonstrate that the adoption of oh my god is not uniform across speakers, and it is not perceived as neutral. Further studies could show, for example, if these findings are specific to Finland, or if other receiving Nordic communities show similar trends.

Andersen, G. (2014). Pragmatic borrowing. Journal of Pragmatics, 67, 17–33.

Peterson, E. (2017). The nativization of pragmatic borrowings in remote language contact situations. Journal of Pragmatics, 113, 116–126.


That's so meta: Netflix's History of Swear Words in Finnish

Minna Hjort, University of Helsinki

Released in January 2021, Netflix's documentary series History of Swear Words presents viewers with six humorous but educational episodes, each dedicated to a specific taboo word. These words, fuck, shit, bitch, dick, pussy and damn, are introduced by the host, actor Nicholas Cage, and discussed by a line-up of actors, comedians, and academics, including a linguist, a lexicographer, a cognitive scientist and a woman's studies scholar. The documentary series was released in Finland under the name Kirosanojen historia ('history of swear words') around the same time as the US original.

For a subtitler, History of Swear Words presents a unique challenge: while swearwords are almost never left untranslated (or unaltered, because as Hermans [2007, 44] rightly points out, even source text words that are transferred directly into a translation go through the process of translation), and while the norm for translating swear words favours functional, non-literal translations rather than literal translations (see, e.g., Hjort 2006), here the focus on specific English words and metalinguistic usage forces the translator to juggle between using English-language words and their literal or non-literal translations in the subtitles. Hermans (2007, 41) writes that by including elements of the source language in the target text, a translator breaches the contract that can be said to exist between a translator and their readers, according to which one language can always represent another, and which lets the reader to forget that the ST and the TT are separate entities (albeit in the case of AVT, this is arguably never truly possible). Another challenge the Finnish translator of the series is faced with is that Finnish and English speakers tend to define 'swear word' in slightly different ways (Hjort 2017), and might not list all of the examined terms under the denomination of kirosana 'swear word').

This paper presents an analysis of the various strategies employed in the Finnish translation of the series to tackle the above challenges and discusses the findings in light of recent research into the subtitling of taboo words.


Hermans, T. (2007) The Conference of the Tongues. Routledge.

Hjort, M. (2017) Swearing in Finnish: Folk definitions and perceptions. In Beers Fägersten, K. & Stapleton, K. (eds.), Advances in Swearing Research. New languages and contexts. Manchester: John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp. 231–256.

Hjort, M. (2006) Kirosanojen valikoituminen audiovisuaaliseen ja kaunokirjalliseen tekstiin. In Lehtinen, E. & Niemelä, N. (eds.), Vaasan yliopiston käännösteorian, ammattikielten ja monikielisyyden tutkijaryhmän (VAKKI) julkaisut N:o 33, pp. 74–84. Vaasa: University of Vaasa


“The damn kids!”:expressivity, animacy and social meaning.

Matthew Hunt, Queen Mary University, London

Studies of swearing and social meaning have typically treated ‘swearwords’ as static, unvarying entities. That is, the numerous studies that have attempted to link the use of swearwords to socially-locatable characteristics have typically used the presence or absence of swearing as their predictor variable (e.g. DeFrank & Kahlbaugh, 2019). Studies that test any variation do so by examining language-external factors such as speaker gender or ethnicity (Jacobi, 2014). No previous work has examined the role of language-internal factors in the social evaluation of swearing. This is despite the considerable linguistic variation that exists in swearing at both the level of sound (Gold & McIntyre, 2016) and grammar (Bergen, 2016).

Following the recent increase in formal and experimental studies of semantics and pragmatics in relation to social meaning (see Beltrama, 2020), this study examines the role of semantic/pragmatic variation in swearing, focusing on the contrast between sentences with local (1-a) or non-local (1-b) expressive intensification readings.

a. The damn kids stained the carpet
b. The damn paint stained the carpet


As expressive adjectives, swearwords show a flexibility of interpretation (Potts, 2005). That is, unlike other adjectives (e.g., brown), expressive adjectives need not apply directly to the nearest entity in the sentence. Rather, they can also apply to a whole sentence (i.e., the non-local reading). This flexibility of interpretation has been shown experimentally for damn by Frazier et al. (2015), who also propose the culprit hypothesis, whereby local readings are more likely to occur with animate objects (e.g., kids in (1-a)) than inanimate objects (e.g. paint in (1-b)). Over two experiments, this study tests whether the animacy distinction also affects a) sentence processing and b) social evaluation of a speaker.

Experiment 1 was a self-paced reading task in which 300 participants read sentences containing animate and inanimate objects modified by damn, fucking and bloody. Following previous findings suggesting a slowdown for non-local compared to local readings of German modal particles (D ̈orre et al., 2018), the prediction was that sentences with inanimate objects would be read slower, due to the need to consider the rest of the sentence while processing the swearword. Results showed this to be the case, with a significant slowdown in the animate condition for all swearwords at object+2 position (B = −4.04, p < 0.001) and for fucking (B = −5.05, p < 0.05) and damn (B = −5.79, p < 0.01) at the object+3 position (see Figure 1). These results provide processing evidence to support the culprit hypothesis.

Experiment 2 was a written matched-guise task using the same stimuli from Experiment 1 for damn and fucking. 160 Participants read one sentence at a time, rating each ‘speaker’ on a series of Likert scales generated in a separate task. Results showed that using a swearword immediately prejacent to an animate noun is evaluated as significantly ruder (B = 0.18, p < 0.01) and, for damn, significantly angrier (B = 0.05, p < 0.05) (see Figure 2). The results suggest there to be a social correlate for the semantic/pragmatic difference between local and non-local expressive intensification. This study provides another example of how semantic variation can be studied in language perception by combining methodologies common in psycholinguistics and sociolinguistics respectively. At the processing level, the study provides further evidence of the increased processing demands of modifiers with dominant non-local readings. At the social level, the study provides empirical evidence that grammatical variation in swearing can influence social evaluation of a speaker, opening the door for more work into what looks increasingly like a more complex phenomenon than linguists have previously thought.




Beltrama, A. (2020). Social meaning in semantics and pragmatics. Language and Linguistics Compass, 14(9), e12398.

Bergen, B. K. (2016). What the f: What swearing reveals about our language, our brains, and ourselves. Hachette UK.

DeFrank, M., & Kahlbaugh, P. (2019). Language choice matters: When profanity affects how people are judged. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 38(1), 126–141.

Do ̈rre, L., Czypionka, A., Trotzke, A., & Bayer, J. (2018). The processing of German modal particles and their counterparts. Linguistische Berichte(255), 58–91.

Frazier, L., Dillon, B., & Clifton, C. (2015). A note on interpreting damn expressives: Transferring the blame. Language and Cognition, 7(2), 291–304.

Gold, E., & McIntyre, D. (2016). What the f***: An acoustic-pragmatic analysis of meaning in the wire. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 140(4), 3228–3228.

Jacobi, L. L. (2014). Perceptions of profanity: How race, gender, and expletive choice affect perceived offensiveness. North American Journal of Psychology, 16(2). Potts, C. (2005). The logic of conventional implicatures (No. 7). Oxford University Press on Demand.