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One of my friends is preparing to go to America for higher studies. So he needs some suggestions regarding proper language usage out there. He needs opinion on usage of slang words. I am posting the question for him. Following are the terms, I assume, are not considered severely impolite or uncivilized to speak to the elders by the junior.

They are:

B*t, A*, F*k, D*k, Gay etc etc

Being not a native to English speaking country, I came under this impression watching English movies. I have seen they are considered slang in those countries when the speaker talking to the elder, is smaller in age i.e. until he is not an adult, but it is okay to speak, when the junior person is an adult. Back here in India, they are considered offensive and uncivilized when the speaker is talking to a senior person, regardless of the speakers age! Here they are used only with friends or when a brawl takes place!

So how should we use them? Casually if we use them in conversation within a family of a natives friend there, would it considered uncivilized? Or if we speak to a random guy who is aged than us (say >15yrs senior), would he consider it as offensive?

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closed as not constructive by FumbleFingers, Kris, tchrist, MετάEd, cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 Jan 1 '13 at 22:49

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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I think this is Not Constructive. It's a subjective issue of culture/etiquette, not English Language as such. –  FumbleFingers Jan 1 '13 at 13:13
    
There are definitely some subtleties associated with, for example, difference between “arse” and “ass”, but your link to that acceptability of touristic question isn't really relevant to what we're talking about here. In general, I think questions of the form "How offensive is [some term which is know to be at least potentially offensive]" are Not Constructive. Everyone has an opinion, but none of them can be "right" or "wrong". –  FumbleFingers Jan 1 '13 at 14:23
    
@FumbleFingers, Should it be migrated to Travel.SE? –  Mistu4u Jan 3 '13 at 6:06
    
I don't really see why. Your friend already knows that these words are offensive in Indian English. If he happens to fall in with a crowd who pepper their speech with profanities, he's more likely to constantly feel uncomfortable in their presence than to "accidentally" call his college professor a "motherfucking asshole". When in Rome, and all that - just tell your friend never to use any of these words in the company of anyone who hasn't already used them first. –  FumbleFingers Jan 3 '13 at 13:11

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

It's better to keep words like that to a minimum. In a professional manner, never say them. Speaking to a random guy, you probably don't want to say them anyways. You don't know if the person you're speaking with will get offended and usually by using such language in an unfamiliar environment you would come off as uncivilized, unintelligent and unprofessional.

There is one exception and that's for the word "gay." This word is completely appropriate as long as you are not using it implying negative connotations (as in calling someone, something, or anything "gay"). You should really only use this word under certain situations where being gay is relevant and in no way should it be a substitute for words like stupid, etc...

In a different environment surrounded by just your friends, it's sometimes okay to kid around with words like the ones you've asked about. If a friend makes a joke about you, for example, you may say something like "f*** you" under joking terms. Today it's sometimes seen as a sign of a good relationship because you're comfortable enough to say something rude but still know that your friend won't be offended. Again, it's really not appropriate and you shouldn't use it in public or professional situations.

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I don't see why a certain section of society should query the use of gay in other (meaning stupid, say) senses while at the same time being content to offend people who find the homosexual usage a warping of the original. –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 1 '13 at 10:46
    
@Edwin: so you find 'fecal material' and 's**t' equally offensive words? –  Mitch Jan 1 '13 at 14:33
    
I've heard the latter, but not the former, used in a sermon - where it had a salutary effect. But I can't see the connection with my comment. People can't make a change which offends some people and then rightfully complain when others do almost exactly the same thing. And outsiders should not be prejudiced in deciding which of the changers should be prioritised. –  Edwin Ashworth Jan 3 '13 at 13:18

Tell your friend: As a rule of thumb, don't use slang in a language that you aren't totally fluent in. Don't imagine that because you know a few slang terms from movies, books, TV shows, or foreign friends, that you have any reason to use them. Always use polite English until you've figured out what slang your American friends use. You can use those slang terms with them only until you've also figured out what slang the average American speaker you talk to uses. If you use a patois that's out of their range, you'll seem pretentious and maybe even hostile and stupid. Just imagine some American coming to India and speaking weird slang that he or she doesn't fully understand the social, cultural, or linguistic value of. Then you will be able to imagine how Americans will look at you.

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I might not consider such language offensive – but, even in cases where I wasn't offended, there's a good chance I'd still find the language juvenile, or off-putting, or tacky, or unrefined, or inappropriate. As others have said, best not use those words in a professional environment, or around minors, or around those who are fairly new acquaintances.

tacky (adj.) showing poor taste and quality
off-putting (adj.) unpleasant, disconcerting, or repellent
inappropriate (adj.) not fitting or appropriate; unsuitable or untimely
juvenile (adj.) silly, childish, and not appropriate for an adult; immature
unrefined (adj.) not elegant or cultured; impolite

If those adjectives describe how your friend wants to be regarded by first-time and casual acquaintances, then I'd recommend using those words you asked about generously. However, if that's not the impression your friend strives to create, then I'd recommend going out of my way to avoid such words in day-to-day conversation.

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Great explanation. +1 –  Mistu4u Jan 1 '13 at 10:26

Your last question was iffy, assuming for a moment this question isn’t Trollish... Those example words you gave are offensive. You’re “friends” use of them in America would be offensive. Your use of them here is offensive. -1

In any country, offensiveness is a moving target. (But half the fun is trying to use these words in a way that is NOT inappropriate or offensive.) This is a slippery-slope; not advised for a non-native speaker. What you may be picking up in movies is witty New York writers throwing down instances where these terms can be used with relative impunity. Some would say the very purpose of art is to “cause effect”, to push the boundaries. Not advised for your friend - or you - ass face. : )

(That was ironic - I've never seen your face.)

Edit - addition below:

The more I think about it, the more your question is entirely valid.

“BUTT” is not an offensive word; unless you’re telling someone to stick something up theirs. For example, I might chide, “I’m going to smack you on the butt.” playfully talking to my daughter/wife, both knowing it’s an empty threat - fun - (not so much to a mother/grandmother. Don’t do that.)

“ASS” is just a more vulgar way of saying butt. Vulgar, but not reprehensible. (“You’re a pain in the ass.” can be used as an idle, non confrontational, expression of exasperation – playful. But, these things are VERY context sensitive!)

“FUCK” is only for idiotic/ironic/humor; never used outside of friends. (“Fuck that noise - $5.50 for a f’ing cup of coffee?”) Special Note: In almost every single case the use of the “F-word” = bad upbringing. People play with that though - pretending they are The Sopranos or something.)

“DICK” = again, only for ironic/funny use. (e.g. the female character Heather Duke in the movie Heathers (1988) – “Veronica, why are you pulling my dick?” It’s vulgar but not reprehensible.)

“GAY” is tough. There is a lot of leeway with that one because the original usage was synonymous with “happy”, but you have to be sensitive to homosexuals (in an overwhelming Liberal society.) But, I mess with that all the time. “I’m gay for Mexican food.” is a current favorite mantra. But I’m an idiot. You and your friend should not do these things. You can only use “gay” when it is clear that you are not intending it to hurt someone who is actually gay. Reprehensible that.

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"Your use of them here is offensive": the OP never used them. He/she only ever mentioned them and is only asking about them. So do find this entire question offensive. –  Mitch Jan 1 '13 at 14:37

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