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Journal of Cross-Cultural and Interlanguage Communication

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Volume 37, Issue 1


“Cunt”: On the perception and handling of verbal dynamite by L1 and LX users of English

Jean-Marc Dewaele
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Applied Linguistics & Communication, Birkbeck University of London, London WC1B 5DT, UK
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Published Online: 2017-07-13 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2017-0013


“Cunt” is currently one of the most offensive words in the English language and is usually censored in the English press and media. The present study looks firstly at differences between 1159 first (L1) and 1165 foreign (LX) users of English in their perceived understanding of the word, its perceived offensiveness and their self-reported frequency of use. Secondly, it considers the relationships between the dependent variables and a number of psychological, sociobiographical and linguistic profile variables. The findings suggest that LX users are less sure about the exact meaning of the word, underestimate its offensiveness and use it less frequently than L1 users. Links between understanding of the word and its perceived offensiveness vary for L1 and LX users. High levels of Extraversion, Neuroticism and Psychoticism were linked to more frequent use of the word, as were lower levels of education, a younger age, being a male and working in a swearing-rich environment for both L1 and LX users. Variation in the group of LX users was linked to age of onset of acquisition of English, context of acquisition, self-reported oral proficiency, frequency of use of English and having lived in an English-speaking environment.

Keywords: swearwords; English L1 and LX users; offensiveness; personality; frequency of use


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About the article

Published Online: 2017-07-13

Published in Print: 2018-01-26

Citation Information: Multilingua, Volume 37, Issue 1, Pages 53–81, ISSN (Online) 1613-3684, ISSN (Print) 0167-8507, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/multi-2017-0013.

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