Friday, 5 June 2015

Cursing V Swearing

Post by Lily Harlem

Okay, so I am guessing if you've swung by the Brit Babes blog you don't have too delicate a disposition and a few coarse words won't offend you. It's not like I'm just going to spout a tirade of abuse at you, not at all, I just want to natter about the difference between US cursing and English cursing - even that word is different, in the UK we would say swearing. As an English author quite often I sit  racking my brains when it comes to thinking up insults for my US characters to hurl at one another!

Mr H is English through and through, born in London, and myself, as the only female with three brothers of my own and four brothers-in-law, all English, I am very familiar with the usual Brit expletives. For example if Mr H is doing a rare bit of DIY and hits his thumb with a hammer he is likely to shout Bollocks. Do you US guys use that term? If he's having a moment of road rage and gets cut-up he's likely to either mutter (or yell) that someone is a  Dickhead, a Knob, a Plonker or a Wanker. (I'm making him sound like a foul mouthed, bad tempered guy, he's not, he's just an ordinary bloke and now I'm using him in this blog! Bless him!)

It isn't until I'm writing US characters (usually my hockey players in HOT ICE) that I start using terms like son-of-a-bitch and mother-fucker. You just wouldn't hear them over here in the UK, and if you did it would be easy to assume someone had overdosed on US movies. 

I read a book a while ago were the word bloody was used to accentuate the dialogue of an English character. It is a common expletive over here, bloody hell being one of my very favourites when things go wrong. It gives a quick release of tension without really offending anyone - and believe me, sometimes I need that. But the word has to be placed just right otherwise it sounds off. Not sure why so I looked it up, this is what one site says... 

Bloody - One of the most useful swear words in English. Mostly used as an exclamation of surprise i.e. "bloody hell" or "bloody nora". Something may be "bloody marvellous" or "bloody awful". It is also used to emphasise almost anything, "you're bloody mad", "not bloody likely" and can also be used in the middle of other words to emphasise them. E.g. "Abso-bloody-lutely"! Americans should avoid saying "bloody" as they sound silly.

I love that last bit, LOL!

Another word I have to switch between is arse and ass. Again we say arse - an ass is a donkey - and to me the word asshole doesn't sound right without the American twang. It's a similar situation to bloody I think, the English can't say asshole without sounding like, well an arsehole. And again, over here, its use stretches into phrases like arse-over-tit, which means to fall over, arse-about-face means something is being done back to front, and arse-holed and rat-arsed which means very drunk.

Piss off is common here too, but I'm not sure how much you use it in the US. It gets used as Pissed up - if someone is drunk and Pissed off if you're fed up.

Anyone who has seen Notting Hill will remember the adorable bit where Hugh Grant says Whoops-a-daisy when trying to climb the railings and Julia Roberts can't stop laughing at him and he can't stop saying it. I LOVED that bit, it was so real, and it certainly is something that's said, particularly around kids or grannies.

My novel is SCORED a sexy soccer story about the English football team. The hero Lewis Tate is English and that allowed me to flow naturally with the dialogue when it came to swearing because let's face it, these hot-headed footballer types do a lot of that when their testosterone gets flowing. I did stop short of using the word goolies though, which means testicles 'he just kicked me in the goolies' being a favourite of young lads in the playground. Another one I refrained from using is John Thomas which is slang for cock, dick, willy, knob and todger. (Though if something is cocked-up it means it's gone wrong and is nothing to do with the male anatomy. Much like the dogs-bollocks which means something is great and nothing to do with dogs or bollocks!)

We have different expressions for having sex too - bonking, shagging, on the job, hanky-panky, slap and tickle, humping, a bit of nookie, screwing, wicked-way, rogering to name a fewUp the arse is buggering, though that word is used a lot as bugger off, or he's a bugger, meaning someone is a pest and nothing to do with anal sex.

Well on that happy note, and now that I have turned the air here blue, I am going to leave you to have your say. Tell me what your favourite UK and US curse words are and why, and of course any new ones for my US located stories will be greatly received :-)

Lily x


  1. I am very fond of Bloody. I realised I swear alot in the car when a few years ago I was cut up on the road and had to slam the anchors on and a chorus of 'you stupid twat' came from the two children in the back .... mmmmmm I am the wife of a sailor, my father was a sailor, both Grandad's wear sailors - one a trawler skipper - and countless ancestors were sailors - so it's in my DNA to swear .... That's my excuse and I'm f'in well sicking to it!

  2. Great post. Gotta say, "fuck" is one of my favourites - and it works well internationally!

    Also now really want to watch Notting Hill. That may be my Friday night viewing sorted. Thanks Lily! :)

  3. I love a good swear. I see it as descriptive language! I have to mind my language around the kids but when I get out with friends I really let rip.

  4. Thanks for commenting ladies. 'Swearing in your sailor DNA' - I love that Alison. Notting Hill, yep, it's a classic and Rebecca, there's something to be said for having a good 'rip' and turning the air blue ;-)

  5. Ok commented but nothing showed so here it is again. Arse is my new word and SHIT ... SHIT on a biscuit is one I always use.


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