A swearword is a taboo word used for various purposes including to shock, offend, express strong emotion etc.
See main article taboo word.
One important feature of taboo words, or words in general, for that matter, is that they usually lose their original meanings when used as insults or swearwords, etc.:
- Bitch = a female dog vs You bitch!***
- A bloody nose vs It’s bloody difficult!;
- It’s fucking impossible!;
Typical insults: Piss off! ***; Fuck off! ***; Fucking Bastard! ***; etc.; Typical exclamations: Fuck! ***; Shit! ***; Bloody ... ! **; etc.
Certain words may be perfectly acceptable amongst some groups or in certain situations but be highly offensive in others. Unless students have spent a considerable amount of time in different parts of the target society, the danger of inadvertently causing offence is high.
For example, a teenager or young adult may find that the word "fuck" is in common use with a group of new English fiends and may also hear it in films - but such a student would be well advised to avoid using it in front of his new friends' parents or a potential employer.
In a similar manner, students will need to be careful of the register they are using when they use swearwords - something which will need a lot of experience.
Some words are swearwords in students' existing societies, and students have the tendency to think that the words carry the same shock value in the "new" society as in the old. They will probably be mistaken.
In some groups the use of swearwords, or the exchange of insults, may indicate membership of a particular group. An attempt to use the same vocabulary by a non-member of the group may cause offence.
The use of swearwords by non-native speakers is a highly risky strategy until such speakers have spent quite some time in the new society, and have had access various social groups. Consequently, teachers are advised to use caution when dealing with such words.
Teachers should also be aware of the problems involved in the teaching these words. It is easy for native speakers to forget the literal meaning of some taboo words associated with excretion or sex when they are used as swearwords (bugger me!) - but students may innocently (or perhaps not so innocently) ask for detailed explanations of the literal meaning of the words. Under such circumstances, teachers may find themselves drawn into the explicit descriptions of acts which some other students - and no doubt some teachers - would find distasteful.