This is more of a cultural question.

A little while back, I was playing basketball at my pickup league - a friend of mine who is white (and from New Hampshire) got whacked pretty bad in the face by a different friend who is black (and from Georgia), it was a hard foul but I don't think the guy was trying to cause injury - it gets fairly competitive.

The guy who got whacked - out of pain more than anything yelled "Motherf**er!" - it didn't seem to me that it was directed at the other guy. However, the guy who hit him - who is usually very easy going - flipped out thinking the swear was directed at him. Then the other guy got pissed off because he was, after all, the one who got whacked.

I guess my NH friend was confused at the reaction and it got to the point where they had to be separated. However, they did cool off after a minute. Afterwards my friend from GA said something like "where I come from you don't call people that".

It got me wondering if Motherf**er is more of an insult in certain parts of the country or if there are racial connotations in the South? I grew up in a fairly diverse area in a northeast city and that word was thrown around fairly casually and nobody ever took too much offense to it.

I'd feel comfortable asking the guy from GA, but I haven't seen him that much in the past few weeks.

Sorry for the odd question.

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    I would be as confused as your NH friend. I've never seen motherfucker have any kind of racial connotation, except for the fact that it is stereotypically more closely connected with AAVE than other dialects (only stereotypically, mind—it’s used just as much in practice outside AAVE in my experience). I'd agree with your GA friend that it's not something you call people in polite society, but it's also not something you'd normally flip out over. Good question, +1. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 15 '15 at 21:56
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    I've never heard any suggestion that this expression has racist connotations. That said, I've always observed it being directed at individuals rather than at the universe at large; While I can certainly imagine someone shouting it to the sky, there's a host of other curses that are more commonly used for that purpose. I'm not surprised that someone at the scene assumed it was a personal attack. – user867 Oct 15 '15 at 22:59
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    I'm pretty sure the guy who got upset at the word did so not because motherfucker has racist overtones, but because in the the South (Southeast, particularly) you'd have to be really pissed to curse at someone's face. It would be an invitation to fight. Many of my Southern friends still use sir and ma'am, and are polite to an absolute fault. Until you cross the line. Then, they go instantly, enormously, batshit. – Dan Bron Oct 16 '15 at 5:33
  • The Georgian was embarrassed and ashamed because he injured the guy. "The wicked flee when no man persueth", so he interpreted the exclamation of pain as a personal attack. Interpreting things in this way and reacting accordingly allowed him to escape his unpleasant feeling of shame by replacing it with the less unpleasant feeling of anger. Not too cool, in my opinion, but it's a fairly common phenomenon. – Doug Warren Oct 16 '15 at 14:25

There seems to be a divide between the North and South (i.e. NH and GA). The South, of course, gets cracked on a lot for "inbreeding", so maybe your GA friend was sensitive about said stereotype and took it really personally, especially because it came from a Northerner.

Another thing... My grandfather hates being called an "SOB", because he sees that as a direct attack on his mother, so maybe your friend felt like that when he was called an "MF"? It's best not to insult anyone's mother in the South without asking if it's okay first.

Source: Alabamian for 22 years.


This site allows discussion on English usage hence the existence of this discussion on this site, even though it is discussing the usage of the vulgar word "motherfucker" (mf).

Contributor picus firstly stated that its usage is cultural; I think he's almost right, but I'd say that its usage is universal among native English speakers, and I'd add that it is also political in the sense of being a taboo word that blacks in the US, in particular, consider to be racially charged when the source is a representative of their perceived centuries-long oppressor.

I can only speculate, but isn't it reasonable to say that if NH were black then GA wouldn't have reacted so aggressively? The word mf comes within the category of words, like the word nigger, that blacks allow other blacks to use when addressing themselves but do not tolerate such usage by their oppressors.

I don't know if NH meant to be especially offensive to GA since it would all depend on timing and whether NH saw that it was GA who was the cause of the presumed accident; but it is certain that GA saw the identity of the verbal insulter and reacted accordingly.

Is this opinion far-fetched or ill-informed? Probably not, especially when such behaviour is seen in other contexts. Isn't such behaviour the explanation why blacks behave more violently when they are encountered by law officials, who are usually white, who in turn behave more aggressively because of their experiences with black suspects? Because of historical and perceived current discrimination, encounters between blacks and whites always have a racial tinge, and this occasion of the use of mf is an example.

To sum up, my answer to the question is that mf can be considered to be insulting depending on the context, and racially offensive depending on the perspective, and doesn't depend on location.


I'm fairly certain that it is indiscriminately offensive, no matter who, where, or in what culture it's used. The disparity in how offensive it actually probably is merely a factor of how easily a person can be offended, rather than in anything tied to specific communities of people.

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