Is there really a most offensive word in the English language?

I think that the following comment by Australian writer Evan Maloney is worth recycling

"That English guy who pontificates on all things auto (and pretty much all things else as well) [Jeremy Clarkson] got in trouble last week for using a word so heinous it can only be described in terms of it’s first letter (the “c” word). It’s been called the most offensive word in the English language and I read this and thought, “according to whom?”

I’m not denying that the word has a lot going for it in terms of offensibility, but is there really one word that can be crowned as the most offensive in any language? Isn’t it purely subjective? I think if I were aboriginal I’d be far more offended by a few other English words besides the “c” word. [He probably has "boong" and "Abo" in mind. "N*gger" is rarely used for blacks in Australia]

People who have lived in or travelled to a foreign country, or studied a foreign language, might have been amused by what arbitrary collections of sounds represent dirty words. In Poland “kurwa” and “pierdola” are two words that would get me sacked from a job writing for any publication here, but on they are kind of quaint, I think.

I wonder if the “c” word isn’t so offensive simply because of the phonetics. There are other terms of abuse one can use that relate to female genetalia, like “you pussy”, but the “p” and the “s” are soft consonants while the “c” and the “t” are hard, so the “c” word can be intoned with a cruelty far more palpable than the word “pussy.” But the semantics are considerably different also. The former is used to describe someone who is weak, while the latter is used to describe the worst type of human being in every sense. It is offensive to use a term relating to women’s genetalia to attack someone, but then again, we call people d***heads and c**kheads and these words don’t come across half as bad.

Then again, the whole idea of offensibility is, like that of a good joke, all about the delivery. I’ve been called a “c” word before and known it was meant as nothing more than a laconic and a cheerful greeting. At least I think it was.


It is true that the context is often what makes a word offensive or not. There was a very irascible guy I knew once who was always quarrelling with people over all sorts of things. He was of Polish descent so I used to call him a "mad Polack" (but with a smile). So I was actually just about the only person he got on well with. I could actually cool him down when he was ranting, which nobody else could.

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