Department of Linguistics & English Language, Lancaster University

The Forms Impoliteness Takes

Some words and structures are more regularly perceived as impolite than others. The following were all regularly used in my data and resulted in a negative reaction from the target (i.e. they took offence). Needless to say, using any particular form does not guarantee that the target will be offended - that depends on the context in which it is used (e.g. it could be taken as friendly banter). Having said that, one thing to bear in mind is that all these forms were used in speech: they had a particular tone and melody (prosody) designed to make the offensive nature of the form clearer.


  1. Personalized negative vocatives
    • [you] [[fucking/rotten/dirty/fat/little/etc.] [moron/fuck/plonker/dickhead/
    • berk/pig/shit/bastard/loser/liar/etc.]] [you]
  2. Personalized negative assertions
    • [you] [are] [so/such] [a] [shit/stink/thick/stupid/bitchy/bitch/hypocrite/ disappointment/gay/nuts/nuttier than a fruit cake/hopeless/pathetic/fussy/ terrible/fat/ugly/etc.]
    • [you] [can't do] [anything right/basic arithmetic/etc.]
    • [you] [disgust/make] [me] [sick/etc.]
  3. Personalized negative references
    • [your] [little/stinking] [mouth/act/arse/body/etc.]
  4. Personalized third-person negative references in the hearing of the target
    • [the] [daft] [bimbo]
    • [she's] [nutzo]

Pointed criticisms/complaints

  • [that/this/it] [is/was] [absolutely/extraordinarily/unspeakably/etc.] [bad/rubbish/crap/horrible/terrible/etc.]

Challenging or unpalatable questions and/or presuppositions

  • why do you make my life impossible?
  • which lie are you telling me?
  • what's gone wrong now?
  • you want to argue with me or you want to go to jail?


  • [that] ['s/being] [babyish/childish/etc.]

Message enforcers

  • listen here (as a preface)
  • you got it? (as a tag)
  • read my lips
  • do you understand [me]? (as a tag)


  • [go] [away]
  • [get] [lost/out]
  • [fuck/piss/shove] [off]


  • [shut] [it/your mouth, face/etc.]
  • [shut] [the fuck] up


  • [I'll] [I'm/we're gonna] [smash your face in/beat the shit out of you/box your ears/bust your fucking head off/straighten you out/etc.] [if you don't] [X]
  • [X] [before I] [hit you/strangle you]

Curses and ill-wishes

  • [go] [to hell/hang yourself/fuck yourself]
  • [damn/fuck] [you]

Non-supportive intrusions

  • interruptions
  • shouting
  • eavesdropping