In a recent question, I realized that while I know what's currently considered the most obscene word in American English ("cunt"), I am told that word is much more unexceptional and workaday in British English, and I do not actually know what word does bear the distinction of most obscene in that vernacular. So, what is it?

Looking for current rather than historical usage, obscenity rather than taboo for reasons other than obscenity (as with racial slurs in the United States), and obscene words rather than obscene concepts -- that is, the taboo attaches to the word itself. If it varies between major British English dialects, give me whatever flavors you know.

For purposes of this question, "most obscene" means that somebody using the word in a context where obscenity is not normally expected will most commonly be thought to be performing the greatest violation of social convention for reason of the word's obscenity.

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    Is cunt really the most obscene American English word? Is there really an answer for this at all? – Kosmonaut Feb 9 '11 at 21:47
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    How could this not be closed as subjective and argumentative? Any question whose title is “the most ... word” is bound to be in this category... – F'x Feb 9 '11 at 21:56
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    What kind of question is this ? What might be obscene to one person might be daily parlance for others. There can be no one answer to this question. – Arjun J Rao Feb 9 '11 at 22:42
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    @chaos: This is not a matter of EL&U being squeamish. If I call my (male) friend a "cunt", he won't find that as offensive as other things I could have called him. Depending on my sex, age, race, background and the sex, age, race, background, and relationship I have with the other person speaking, a different word could be the most offensive one possible. And this variation could be all within a single community. Taboo words are fascinating in general; there is just no way to answer this question. – Kosmonaut Feb 9 '11 at 22:46
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    Really? "cunt" is the worst word you guys can think of? I'm really disappointed. – WalterJ89 Feb 10 '11 at 13:19

I can't think of anything stronger than cunt, to be honest, and even that depends on context.

(As an aside, I think I'd have to side with @chaos on the debate about whether 'relative obscenity' is a meaningful expression. Even though different people may have different levels of tolerance, I think that in a given society, most will agree on what is 'generally acceptable' or not, and will know how to adapt their vocabulary depending on the company present).

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    If the question were "what words are generally regarded as highly obscene", then it would be in line with what you are talking about. This question was about "what is the most obscene word"? There is no way to actually answer this. I think the studies chaos found come the closest that one could ever get to answering this question, but they don't actually answer that question (instead they answer the question "what word meets the threshold of highly obscene among the most people?"). – Kosmonaut Feb 10 '11 at 13:59
  • @Kosmonaut, ok. @chaos why don't you change your question title accordingly, (that way @Kosmonaut can delete all these comments!) – Benjol Feb 10 '11 at 14:01
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    For a recent demonstration of how much fuss still can be generated in the UK by even an accidental use of this word, try Googling 'Jeremy Hunt' 'Culture Secretary' Naughtie. I think the most widespread response was amusement rather than outrage, however, so perhaps things are shifting. – onestop Feb 19 '11 at 15:30
  • You guys should read some Eve Ensler. – user13141 Dec 9 '11 at 12:36

According to research conducted by the British Broadcasting Standards Commission (PDF report at http://www.asa.org.uk/Resource-Centre/~/media/Files/ASA/Reports/ASA_Delete_Expletives_Dec_2000.ashx) and the New Zealand Broadcasting Standards Authority (PDF report at http://www.bsa.govt.nz/assets/Research/What-Not-to-Swear-Full-BSA2010.pdf), the answer appears to most likely also be "cunt" in at least two major branches of British English. Apparently I was laboring under a misapprehension about its perceived severity outside of the United States.

  • I appreciate your tick mark, but isn't this a better answer? – Benjol Feb 10 '11 at 14:02
  • @Benjol: Maybe, but what I really wanted in the first place was a native speaker's intrinsic knowledge, which is what you gave me, and I feel vaguely like it's poor form to accept one's own answer. – chaos Feb 10 '11 at 14:39
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    I have heard that "cunt" is thrown about much more liberally in Scotland than in England. – Robin Green Apr 17 '11 at 11:12
  • The links are broken. I left them in place for reference. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 24 '13 at 19:25

I think that in recent years racial epithets have come to be regarded as being at least as offensive as sexual words like 'cunt' and 'fuck'.

My definition of 'obscene' would therefore include words like 'nigger', 'Paki', 'kyke/kike', 'chink' and so on.

I despair of the human race.

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    +1: It seems to me that over the last decade or two, nigger has become so offensive to many Americans that it's now more taboo than cunt. Brits have moved in that direction, but not so far, I feel. – FumbleFingers Dec 9 '11 at 13:04
  • Indeed, not far enough. And sadly, since 9/11 and the putative 'war on terror' in Afghanistan, 'Paki', which was going the same way has become popular again amongst the far-right and lower orders. – 5arx Dec 9 '11 at 15:17
  • These are highly subjective mattters, obviously. Offense can be just as much in the ear of the hearer as the mouth of the speaker - witness the considerable legal and social ramifications of using the word niggardly in America (which to most Brits, is either amusing or baffling). Personally, I don't think you can change a bigot's perceptions by legislating his use of language - all you can or should do is constrain people's actions to be "reasonable". – FumbleFingers Dec 9 '11 at 17:37
  • +1 I agree. I wince if I hear the second set of words but am not bothered by any of the first set. – Martin Smith Feb 15 '14 at 21:22

It's cunt in Britain too.

And I think it's a perfectly valid question as well, by the way.

Have you seen the movie Atonement? It makes use of the word cunt and its standing. Bit of a cuntish movie though, probably not worth watching.

  • Definitely not worth watching. – 5arx Jan 20 '12 at 10:59

Is it coincidence? Because here in Chinese, the most offensive word towards a person also stands for the outer female sex organ.

I Don't know if you guys from other countries have words with similar meanings that can be used this way.

  • Dutch has "kut", which can be used in similar fashion, but it is sometimes less strong than cunt: I might shout it when, e.g., I hit my head, which is how most people under 40 would use it on a regular basis. Using it to indicate a person is much stronger (I don't think I ever do that). French has con, Spanish coño, etc. etc. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Feb 20 '11 at 19:13
  • English has the multi-purpose and ever-reliable (in terms of causing offense) 'cunt'. It may be used affectionately in connection with your dearest friends and also in anger against those whom you most despise. – 5arx Jan 20 '12 at 10:59
  • genitalia words = highly offensive 'swear' words - it's an interesting point, made slightly more confusing given that 'vulva' wouldn't be considered nearly as obscene as 'cunt', except in the context of talking-about-genitalia in general being taboo. – StackExchange What The Heck Oct 16 '13 at 11:29

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