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Recently, I often hear swear words in various videos (like those on Youtube), in voice chats while playing games, and in dramas on Netflix. According to my native English-speaking friends, such words are used relatively everyday (between friends, of course). As someone who is learning English as a second language, I basically had a rather strong image of such words as "bad words" and thought they were not often used on a daily basis, but apparently this is not the case in reality.

It is true that such words, which are considered bad words in my mother tongue (Japanese), are frequently used in everyday conversation (among friends, of course).

So my question is, if such words are used on a daily basis, is it OK for someone learning English as a second language to use them (of course depends on situation)? Or, should I totally avoid using it?

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    Sadly this question is asking for an opinion and cannot be answered definitively. One person's everyday word might be another's taboo. It depends, amongst other things, on who is saying it to who. For example the notorious N-word seems to be frequently used without offense between members of some black communities, but if I used it (I'm white) it would rightly cause offense. My advice would be to understand the words but not use them. Jul 28 at 11:06
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    You might want to look at Why is damn a swear word while dang and darn aren't?, which gives at least some indication of the complexities involved. Paradoxically, despite the fact that some prudes tend to dismiss profanity as evidence that the person who habitually swears doesn't know English well enough to express himself without swearing, the ability to swear "naturally" is a strong indicator of a fluent native speaker (it's usually difficult for non-native speakers to acquire this ability). Jul 28 at 11:42
  • According to a number of UK newspapers, the actor Brian Blessed, who played Flash Gordon in a movie, I gather, was on a UK TV chat show and told how he took a dump on Mount Everest. During the tale, he used the word 'fuck', which you can do on UK TV after 9 PM. Not long after, he was invited to Buckingham Palace by the Queen. She told him she though the toilet episode was very funny, and went on to say 'the word "fuck" is an Anglo Saxon word. It means spreading the seed'. It's been a well-known fact for decades that Prncess Margaret swore like a trooper, and King George VI did sometimes. Jul 28 at 12:06
  • Another story has it that during World War II, King George visited an RAF base. A young fighter pilot was introduced to him. The King was told that the young man had shot down his first German fighter. The King said 'What type was it?'. The pilot felt uncomfortable about saying 'Focke-Wulf' to his sovereign, because 'Focke' sounds like a very rude word, so said 'I didn't notice, sir'. The King grinned and said 'Not a fucking Messerschmitt then?' Jul 28 at 12:35
  • Firstly, thanks to you all for the comments. I realized that this was more of a opinion-based question. Though those comments helped me a lot. I guess I'll take a time to understand those words and usable situations. I may use them in future sometimes, though that would be only among my friends and such. Thanks again. And @MichaelHarvey , that episode is funny!
    – Skye-AT
    Jul 28 at 12:57

2 Answers 2

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I would recommend not swearing.

When learners of English swear it tends to appear fake. The essence of swearing is that the speaker is unable to express the strong emotions and swearing is a act of loss-of-control. A native speaker doesn't choose to swear. When an English learner swears it is a act of choice, not a loss of control - a learned response not a natural one.

The meaning of words like "fuck" or "shit" is simple enough to translate. The emotional content of these words is very hard to translate. Even though you know the "meaning" you probably don't understand these words. It is dangerous to use words which you don't understand.

If you need to ask about swearing then don't swear.

If you swear, it should have been completely natural, not planned or calculated. You should have sworn even though you didn't want to, without conscious control.

There are exceptions, Björk (the singer) swears in English completely convincingly, but she is completely free with her emotions. She doesn't ask permission, but lets it all flow. She has also worked in London for many years. Not many people can do this in a foreign language

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  • I agree 100%. Swearing is socially complex, even for a native speaker. I swear freely in comfortable surroundings, but I am rarely the first person to swear in an unfamiliar setting. Jul 28 at 13:40
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I want to add a thought to the excellent answer from JamesK.

Profanity is received differently depending on audience and situation.

You do hear a lot of profanity in today’s entertainment. That does not mean that all people approve. Your use of language is one of the ways that people silently assess you. Talking like Dexter’s sister (in the TV series) in a job interview may cost you a job you really want.

It is a modern commonplace not to be “judgmental.” Regardless of these injunctions, people do make judgments all the time. And the effect of these injunctions is that judgments are less likely to be voiced.

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