How offensive is the word Bastard? And when did it become more of an offense than a term used for child out of wedlock?

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    Certainly in BrEng bastard is no longer an offensive term. It is almost never used any more to indicate a child of unmarried parents (in fact, using it in that sense would be offensive, as there should no longer be a stigma attached to that state). It's used by people as a semi-affectionate term, particularly between male friends (Hello, you old bastard!), or, used derogatorily, to indicate a sense of disgust at someone's actions (he's a real bastard for cheating on his wife or You bastard! Pay me what you owe me now!) - but it has no real power as an insult any more.
    – Charl E
    Mar 2, 2016 at 9:50
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    @CharlE But calling a stranger "bastard" will surely be offensive, right?
    – NVZ
    Mar 2, 2016 at 10:28
  • @NVZ Yes, of course, but I can't imagine anyone in control of their emotions doing that. I'd be more worried about their sanity than offended if it were directed at me.
    – Charl E
    Mar 2, 2016 at 10:36
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    As to its origins, did you look up the term in a dictionary? The first link contains information about its history.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 2, 2016 at 13:46

2 Answers 2


I suppose it's an Old phrase from used in French bastart. In medieval Latin it called bastardus, or probably bastum which is the same as "pack saddle," the idea probably being of a child produced from a relationship with a traveler.


Bastard is a very old term of French origin. The way we use is today as a general term of offence is from 1830:

  • "illegitimate child," early 13c., from Old French bastard (11c., Modern French bâtard), "acknowledged child of a nobleman by a woman other than his wife," probably from fils de bast "packsaddle son," meaning a child conceived on an improvised bed (saddles often doubled as beds while traveling), with pejorative ending -art (see -ard).

  • Not always regarded as a stigma; the Conqueror is referred to in state documents as "William the Bastard." Figurative sense of "something not pure or genuine" is late 14c.; use as a vulgar term of abuse for a man is attested from 1830. As an adjective from late 14c. Among the "bastard" words in Halliwell-Phillipps' "Dictionary of Archaic and Provincial Words" are avetrol, chance-bairn, by-blow, harecoppe, horcop, and gimbo ("a bastard's bastard").


Bastard is an offensive expression but it can be used, with care, as a jocular expression:

  • (informal, offensive) an obnoxious or despicable person

  • (informal, often jocular) a person, esp a man: lucky bastard

  • (informal) something extremely difficult or unpleasant: that job is a real bastard.


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