Insults and Profanity

Perhaps understandably, you may not study the language of insults too much at school! But studying language that cultures find offensive can tell you much about societies. What makes a word rude? Read a selection of the following articles, beginning with Swearing by Bill Bryson, to find out more:

Class Activity: “She Got *******ed!”

Read this article to find out what Donald trump said about Hilary Clinton after she lost in the primary to Barack Obama. After you have read the article together, discuss the following questions with your class:

  • Is this word offensive and should it be considered taboo?
  • If it is offensive, why? What makes this word unacceptable? If it’s not offensive, why? Why is this word appropriate to use?
  • Does it matter how offensive a word is before you consider not using it? Are there degrees of taboo?
  • You may use language that is more offensive in your every day life. Is that a problem?
  • Should certain words be banned from public discourse? Why or why not? What are the implications on free speech if this occurs?
  • Should politicians be held to a higher standard in terms of the language they use in comparison to the general public?

Learner Portfolio

‘Bad’ language is a family of words with unique power – the power to hurt. Write up your findings from this section. What makes a word offensive? What can you tell about a society from the words it finds rude?


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