Is 'Knackered' a rude word?

I hope you don’t mind helping out someone from ‘across the pond’ with a question about language. More specifically it’s the derivation of the word ‘knackered’.

As a piece of background, the mother of a friend of mine was shocked and annoyed at me for saying ‘I felt knackered’ when asked how I was feeling. For my part I believed it to be a common enough expression for tiredness. I, and many others, use it, not just for a human feeling, but also to describe the state of inanimate objects. ‘That car is knackered’ for a vehicle that has broken down. ‘The laptop is completely knackered’ is a computer that won’t reboot (well, you get the picture).

After a half-hearted apology I dared to ask her why she was offended by the word and she explained it is only supposed to mean ‘tiredness after sexual activity’. This was a complete revelation to me, and I have not been able to find evidence that she is correct. Can any of you help?

As a side note, the slang word ‘knackers’ is often used to describe male rude bits (well it is in the UK, not sure if the word has made it over to the US). Could this be where her mistake lies, or have we derived the word ‘knackers’ from ‘knackered’ in the first place and she is completely right to scold me for using the term.

It is in that middle ground of words where you have to know your audience. A bit like “crap”, nothing to most people but every so often you come across someone that doesn’t like it.

Oh and “tiredness after sexual activity” was how I learnt it at school back in the 80s.

ISTR many years ago a mild controversy when Prince Charles described himself to assembled hacks as “knackered”, after a polo match or something. I mean, people were probably amused more than shocked, but it seemed funny to hear him use the word.
Possibly comes from “knacker”, a tradesman who takes away dead horses. If you’re knackered, you’re figuratively in the same state as the horse.

But also your knackers are, in some cases, your balls.

And in Ireland “knacker” is an offensive term to refer to the travelling community, which has expanded out to mean underclass person - akin to the UK’s “chav” which also comes from the travelling community.

I have never heard of the sexual connotation to ‘Knackered’ before. I have always thought it referred to the dead horse explanation. You also hear things being described as only fit for the knackers yard which again links to the disposal of dead horses.

I’ve always understood the use of “knackered” as “tired” to be a comparison to a slaughtered horse, like Ximenean points out. Saying “I’m knackered” is pretty much the same thing as saying “I’m beat” – yes, both terms literally refer to violently attacking something, but they’re to be understood in a metaphorical sense. It never occurred to me that “knackered” could be offensive.

Although I’ve heard terms like “knackersack”, I’ve never encountered “knackered” in a sexual context either. It always means someone is tired or worn out, or for an object it’s so worn out it has stopped working.

I think it is, or was, regarded as mildly rude, and perhaps the perceived rudeness comes from the link to “knackers” as in bollocks.
As Not the Nine O’Clock News reported the Prince Charles incident: The Prince of Wales says that he regrets his use of the word “knackered”, and that next time he feels shagged out, he’ll keep his gob shut.

I think there is a class element to disapproval of the word as I would definitely see the term as working class. I am sure plenty of parents who wanted to think of themselves as middle class would have discouraged their children from saying knackered. In the same way using a term like ain’t would be discouraged.

It’s part of not speaking proper like ain’t it.

My (scottish) dad used it all the time. It absolutely had zero sexual connotation, nor was in any way considered a rude word in our house.

Yeah, but he was scottish.


Never heard it used that way. It’s always just been a straight synonym for “exhausted” to me. The only way I could have imagined it being offensive is if you referred to a person as “knackered” if they were old or injured.

In my part of the world, kicked in the knackers = kicked in the balls, but “knackered” has no such connotation (though “knacker” in any form is rarely used here).

Familiar by many may be the British TV series —picked up by PBS in the States — All Creatures Great and Small (from the books), about a pair of pre- and postwar veterinarians, in which the term “knacker’s,” or “knacker’s yard” is used repeatedly as the place, as mentioned above, where dead animals were taken. Its use, then and now, is innocent.

“Knackered,” though, means exhausted, probably from “knacker’s yard.” Nothing is more exhausted than dead. There’s nothing offensive about it.

My husband was born and raised in the London area, and moved to the U.S. as an adult over 10 years ago. He will occasionally use “knackered,” always to mean “tired” in the general sense - I’ve never heard him say it with any kind of sexual connotation.

It’s in general use here and just means “tired”.

I was just going to post the exact same quote! Amazing what you remember from 32 years ago.

In my 30 years of working as a writer and editor in the United States, I’ve never heard that word.

I would have sworn knackered was a euphemism for being drunk…Learn something everyday.

I think it’s an age related thing, for example, if I told my Mum I’m knackered she would just accept that I’m tired. If I told my Nan I’m knackered she would tell me not to use that word.

I grew up in Scotland in the late 60s through the 1970s, and to me “knackered” = exhausted, tired, wiped out. Nothing more and nothing less, and I used to use the word in that exact context. I’m also aware of the word as it relates to dead animals and the people who picked them up. Which is where (until today) I assume the phrase came to mean really, really tired.

That was then and this is now; it appears the word has grown a connotation or two of late. I probably haven’t used the word in three decades.