The terms "screw up" and "crap" are frequently used on American TV that I'm not sure whether they're euphemisms, my first assumption, or just vulgar.

I don't want to make mistakes, especially when speaking to children, but after doing some research, I found no definitive answer.

Are these terms euphemisms or just vulgar?

I found this explanations:

"screw up" is offensive in the UK, but just slang in the US. The translation in my language is vulgar or euphemistic, depending on whether they're being translated from UK or US English.

"crap" is considered mildly offensive, but the translations are both euphemistic and very vulgar.

Can I use these terms when speaking with children or with, for example, my father-in-law?

  • 1. Make an effort to find answers and let us know where you searched and what you found. 2. Take advice on how to write your question without errors. (Perhaps ask your teacher to correct the mistakes.)
    – Kris
    May 11, 2013 at 10:56
  • Offensive & vulgar versus euphemism depends upon who's making the judgment. You won't find any definitive answer anywhere about social judgments of words, only about legal judgments in cases decided by the courts or regulatory commissions like the USA's FCC. When I was in high school in the US, the principal told me & my friend Neil that we had used forbidden language over the PA system: in our lunchtime skit, we said "What the heck?" Heck's a euphemism for "Hell", he said, & "Hell" is not permitted, so "heck" isn't either. Neil & I were shocked. But the principal was a bluenose.
    – user21497
    May 11, 2013 at 11:01
  • just a question, why "can" goes after "I" in the question "I can use this terms speaking with children?" ?
    – FdT
    May 11, 2013 at 12:13
  • @FdT: It doesn't go after "I" in a question. It goes before "I" in a question. The question mark itself is not enough; inversion is also required. Some people apparently think the question mark is a question particle like Mandarin ma or Malay -kah, but it's not; it's just punctuation, and punctuation is silent. May 11, 2013 at 15:33
  • Thank you, John. Indeed. So, there was an error made by editing that now is been correct.
    – FdT
    May 11, 2013 at 15:56

2 Answers 2


Also from a UK perspective:

screw up

I don't regard this as at all offensive, merely informal.

Chambers (http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/) has:

screw-up noun, slang 1 a disastrous occurrence or failure. 2 a person who has messed up (their life, etc).

I would say that the first meaning is much more common, either as a noun or a verb, although I think "disastrous" is too strong (see ODO below.)

Oxford Dictionaries (ODO) (http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/screw?q=screw+up#screw__54) has:

screw up
1. (of the muscles of one’s face or around one’s eyes) contract, typically so as to express emotion or because of bright light:
- his freckled face screwed up with childish annoyance
2. informal, chiefly North American completely mismanage or mishandle a situation:
- I’m sorry, Susan, I screwed up

Meaning 1. is standard English - neither slang nor offensive.
Meaning 2. is the same as Chamber's meaning 1. but I would say (1) it's now quite common in British English; (2) "completely mismanage" is a better description than "disastrous".
I would regard this usage as informal rather than slang, and certainly in no way offensive. I do not think of it as related to the offensive slang to screw for copulation.

Also have a look at the ODO link above for screw someone up and screw something up.

to screw

In the sense talked about here, I would regard this as vulgar and offensive.

Chambers (http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/) has:

screw (verb)
5 tr & intr, coarse slang to have sexual intercourse with someone.

ODO (http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/screw) has:

screw (verb)
3 [with object] vulgar slang have sexual intercourse with.
- [no object] (of a couple) have sexual intercourse.

But note that it also has:

be screwed
be in serious trouble:
- if you’re colour-blind, you’re screwed

Again, it would be worth looking at the ODO link thoroughly because there are lots of ways in which various phrases involving screw can be used -- some vulgar, some merely slang or informal, and some as standard English!


Chambers (http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/) has:

coarse slang noun 1 faeces. 2 nonsense. 3 rubbish. verb (crapped, crapping) intrans to defecate. crappy adj (crappier, crappiest) rubbish; inferior.

Personally, I would regard its use for defecating as very coarse & vulgar, but its other uses as only slightly coarse - but that can depend on context and tone of voice.

Also have a look at the ODO (http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/crap?q=crap) - the entry is a bit long to reproduce here.

  • +1 for screw up eyes/face - that meaning hadn't occurred to me.
    – Mynamite
    May 11, 2013 at 16:34
  • 1
    That is not the OED.
    – tchrist
    May 11, 2013 at 16:57
  • @tchrist I stand corrected. I just tried editing it and found you were doing so at the same time!
    – TrevorD
    May 11, 2013 at 17:21
  • Thanks for the answer. So, "screw" is not vulgar, it's the context that can make it vulgar; "crap" seems annoying, probably it's better use "heck".
    – FdT
    May 11, 2013 at 18:50
  • 'Heck does not have all the same meanings as 'crap'. You can 'beat the crap/heck' out of someone, but you can't say a bad film was 'heck'.
    – Mynamite
    May 11, 2013 at 19:08

UK - I would not use either of these terms with children.

Crap is a general term for something worthless and also specifically means to defecate. You might hear it quite often in general speech amongst adults, but you should keep it to informal situations. A doctor would not use crap if discussing defecation with a patient. But you would commonly hear things like:

"What did you think of the film last night?
"It was crap."

To screw is a slang term for to copulate. My feeling is that screw up is less vulgar than screwed. For example:

John thought he'd got the job but at the last minute they gave it to the boss's nephew. He was screwed. (John was cheated out of the job, the nephew had an unfair advantage).

This sounds slightly more vulgar than:

John didn't do well in the interview. He screwed up. (John messed up things for himself by not performing well in the interview).

  • 1
    "To screw up" is not listed as offensive or vulgar or slang by M-W online, & it does say this: _First Known Use of SCREW UP: 1680". Cambridge Dictionary online doesn't stigmatize it either. It's certainly not formal & not upper-register English, but it's common spoken American English & can be heard on TV, in movies, & at the dinner table. Protecting children from "bad words" is probably as effective as protecting them from germs: weakens their immune systems.
    – user21497
    May 11, 2013 at 11:36
  • I figured out that "screw" was just the act made with a screwdriver, not to copulate. But now I can connect it with a much more accurate translation in my language (where the verb used to picture copulating is the act to close-open a door with a key). But if it is not, like Bill Franke suggests, I can use it in informal situations. "crap", instead, could be acceptable. It's not a bad word like the "sheet"-word.
    – FdT
    May 11, 2013 at 12:29
  • @BillFranke There's a difference between accepting that children will encounter germs in their daily lives and deliberately infecting them with germs. What children take from these words all depends on their age, the context, and the tone and demeanour of the person who says them - far too big a subject for a small comment box. I'd prefer children to learn civilized expressions first, they can decide for themselves later on whether to use coarser ones.
    – Mynamite
    May 11, 2013 at 16:49
  • Where do you get from that the meaning of "to screw sb." has the same roots as "to screw sth. up". There are examples for both cases: compare "to fuck sth. up" (clear vulgar connection) and "to mess sth. up" (no apparent vulgar connection). You seem to imply "screw" to fall in the first category without giving the second a second thought.
    – bitmask
    May 11, 2013 at 18:16
  • Indeed, the first time I heard it I didn't believe that was vulgar, but some times I feel it in some way different, and appears more vulgar. Two examples: "You menage to screw up the screwed up" seems not vulgar, but "Screw you!" seems it (something less than F-you).
    – FdT
    May 11, 2013 at 18:55

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