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One more colorful slang term I gleaned from the British movie I recently watched is slag. In the movie, it was used in curses like, "Fuck-ing dogs! Slags." "Right slag, that one."

Now I know via dictionaries that slag means "a loose, promiscuous woman." But there are multiple slang terms for such a woman in American English that have varying levels of vulgarity -- here's how I would rank a couple of them, from least to greatest in vulgarity:

skank < slut < ho < bitch < cunt

So where does slag fit on this spectrum? Of course, I imagine you'd never hear it on proper television, but is slag barely elided over when someone goofs and says it, kind of how the word bitch is in American English? Or is it a word that a rough group of friends might use around each other casually, sort of how the word motherfucker is in American English, and apparently cunt is in British English? Or perhaps slag is a word that one should prepare for a fight over if one uses it, like cunt in American English?

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Can't say about the Dextropondians but here in 'Merica, "bitch" is not nearly as bad as the others. If one of my daughters said my wife was acting like a bitch, well, I wouldn't be thrilled, but they'd be in serious, serious trouble if they had used a word like "skank". Partly, it's just that "bitch" means nothing worse than "ill-tempered woman", while the other words have very strong sexual connotations. –  Malvolio May 12 '11 at 0:16
    
An actual Bitch - a canine, not a human - displays a couple of behaviors, especially when in heat. One is being "ill tempered" - snapping and snarling at her would be suitors - another is being relatively indiscriminate and not exclusive about her sex partners. When we humans apply the word to one of our own species, we may intend to imply either both or only a single one of these behaviors. Hopefully it's clear from the context what's intended, and most of the time a daughter would be complaining only about ill temper. "Slut" as a comparative example, refers exclusively to sexual behavior. –  mickeyf May 26 '11 at 13:58
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@Malvolio: I disagree about your ordering. 'Bitch' is considered a swear word, not terribly taboo. but still taboo. 'Skank' is not a taboo word. The concept may be distasteful, and calling someone a skank may be as hurtful as call them a bitch, but the word itself doesn't have the stigma value that bitch does. –  Mitch Sep 1 '11 at 15:41
    
@Mitch -- yes, bitch does have a slight taboo quality (as a noun; as a verb, meaning "complain", it's harmless), but the underlying sentiments order differently. –  Malvolio Sep 2 '11 at 10:38
    
@Malvolio: I can accept t (especially since I was going that direction anyea, that there's a difference between the intensity of the utterance and intensity of the underlying meaning). –  Mitch Sep 2 '11 at 12:47
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3 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Before getting to the main answer, a few points that may be interesting to you (though I realise they're not actually part of your question!):

  1. In the UK - at least in some circles, the word cunt is an insulting word for a man, never a woman: neither I nor those that I've asked have ever heard it used that way, though as the comments below attest, this usage does exist.
  2. Of the others, the odd-one-out to me would seem to be bitch: I'm not sure about US usage of that word, but to me the others all have a connotation (to a greater or lesser extent) of sexual impropriety. In the UK at least, bitch doesn't have that association - it means something along the lines of woman with an unkind, evil or spiteful personality.
  3. The words skank and ho are recognised - especially from rap music - but are definitely felt to be American imports. All of the others are fully accepted as native :)

On to the main question: it's probably worth distinguishing between the degrees of offensiveness of (abusing terminology slightly) use and mention of the words: that is, some words can be happily used in polite society, but one would be highly offended to be called one - whereas with some words merely saying the word (regardless of who it is applied to) is offensive in of itself.

Having drawn that distinction: mention of the word slag - while it's clearly to be avoided when on one's best behaviour - is unlikely to cause much offence; that would put it on a roughly similar level to slut or perhaps skank.

However, using the word slag to describe someone would be a good way to start a fight. It is probably at a similar level to slut: perhaps slightly more offensive, if only because slutty/sluttish can refer to general demeanour (in dress, speech) - and indeed can occasionally merely mean "untidy, slovenly" with no sexual connotation - whereas slag is unambiguously referring to sexual behaviour.

It's worth mentioning the word is used a lot in comedy - perhaps the earliest was in the comic Viz (decidedly not a comic for children, and never noted for its reverence); here's an example in Harry Enfield's sketch show; and more recently in Gavin and Stacey. (Using the word for men isn't common except in reference to this show!). You can probably see - especially from this last example - that this word can be thrown around among close friends in a humorous way - but I would strongly advise against doing so unless you're very sure of what you're doing, since the line between banter and offence is a very narrow one at times :)

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cunt can be directed towards women in the UK, but it is considered far far worse than calling a man a cunt. I've only heard it used that way a handful of times and it always provokes an extreme response. –  Robb Apr 10 '11 at 10:56
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@Robb: Interesting... those I've spoken to said they'd consider it an error... that said, if someone did use it towards anyone, there's no doubt that they're intending to be offensive! –  psmears Apr 10 '11 at 11:18
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#1 is definitely wrong, I'm British too and I've seen 'cunt' used to refer to a woman many times. Like Robb said, it's generally considered much worse than saying it to a man. –  victoriah Apr 10 '11 at 11:34
    
I guess it's interesting to note how subjective these things can be. To my ears, 'slag' sounds far, far harsher than 'slut', but less so than 'cunt'. –  victoriah Apr 10 '11 at 11:36
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I think it's fair to say that most usage of the word cunt is man-on-man. IME women are offended just to hear the word, let alone have it directed at them. –  z7sg Ѫ Apr 10 '11 at 12:12
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It sounds pretty confrontational and insulting, and is certainly disparaging, if not downright offensive.

Etymology here:

slag - loose woman or treacherous man - the common association is with slag meaning the dross which separates during the metal ore (typically iron) smelting process. In fact the iron smelting connection is probably more of a reinforcing influence rather than an originating root of the expression. Francis Grose's Vulgar Tongue 1785 dictionary of Buckish Slang and Pickpocket Eloquence has the entry: "Slag - A slack-mettled fellow, not ready to resent an affront." In other words a coward. In this sense 'slack-mettled' meant weak-willed - combining slack meaning lazy, slow or lax, from Old English slaec, found in Beowulf, 725AD, from ancient Indo-European slegos, meaning loose; and mettle meaning courage or disposition, being an early alternative spelling of metal from around 1500-1700, used metaphorically to mean the character or emotional substance of a person, as the word mettle continues to do today. Partridge says that the modern slag insulting meaning is a corruption and shortening of slack-mettled. Certainly the associations between slack, loose, lazy, cheating, untrustworthy, etc., are logical. The mettle part coincidentally relates to the metal smelting theory, although far earlier than recent 20th century English usage, in which the word slag derives from clear German etymology via words including slagge, schlacke, schlacken, all meaning metal ore waste, (and which relate to the coal-dust waste word slack), in turn from Old High German slahan, meaning to strike and to slay, which referred to the hammering and forging when separating the waste fragments from the metal. Slag was recorded meaning a cowardly or treacherous or villainous man first in the late 18th century; Grose's entry proves it was in common use in 1785. Slag meaning a female prostitute seems to have first developed much later - around the 1950s - and its more general application to loose girls or women is later still, 1960s probably at soonest. So the notion that slag came directly from the iron and steel industry to the loose woman meaning is rather an over-simplification. The first slags were men, when the meaning was weak-willed and untrustworthy, and it is this meaning and heritage that initially underpinned the word's transfer to the fairer sex.

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I first encountered "slag" about two weeks ago on another board and its use engendered (heh) quite a controversy. While there may have been an obsolete use of the term (ex 'slack-mettled'), I suspect this resurgence is disassociated from prior etymology. –  The Raven Apr 10 '11 at 12:30
    
So the word's alleged UK origin 'slack-mettled' is similar to the US slang term 'slacker'. Interesting. –  user24006 Jul 24 '12 at 21:58
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Slag is probably between bitch and cunt on your spectrum. It's not a word someone would use casually. You would only use it to describe someone that you really dislike and even then other words are to be preferred.

If you directly refer to someone as a slag then yes, you should prepare for a fight. My mental image of a situation where ''slag'' is used involves two groups of chavvy women, drunk, outside a pub, late at night, fighting over someone's boyfriend. That's pretty much the only time you should use the term.

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protected by Jasper Loy Jul 24 '12 at 22:18

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