Words That Are Vulgar But Not Slang?

I am a little confused by the science of linguistics.

Apparently there are some words that are vulgar but not slang. I assume that is because of the linguistic history of the word.

F****, s****, and c****. Fart and snot are apparently just becoming vulgar now.

Does that mean these words are acceptable to use as any other non-slang word? Specifically, what if I used one in a college essay? Surely the professor would protest. Could I argue that they are in fact not slang?


I’m not sure what you mean. Slang is taboo in certain circumstances, like formal essays. Vulgarity is taboo in even more circumstances, including most of those in which slang is taboo.

They are unacceptable in many circumstances because they’re vulgar, and being slang or not has nothing to do with it.

The way the rules are stated for writing papers is by design inaccurate and incomplete. You’re required to use good judgment in deciding how to write. The reason slang is prohibited is not that it’s the only prohibited thing; instead, it’s something that there might be reasonable questions about using, and therefore it’s worth making a rule about. In the same way, the army specifically prohibits long beards, but doesn’t specifically prohibit braided armpit hair with gold tassels - and also in the same way, if you had the guts to ask, the answer would be “What do YOU think?”.

Is it just me who doesn’t know these five-letter-words?



I thought “slang” words were specific to a certain group, in addition to it being casual or vulgar. It’s not slang if everyone uses it the same way.

Those words have always been vulgar. They are not slang, however, since they are part of standard English, and have been for hundreds of years. (Fart and snot, in my experience, are becoming more acceptable rather than “more vulgar.” Fifty years ago you would never have heard them on TV or seen them in a newspaper. Now you might.)

It’s not only slang that’s not acceptable in formal writing, it’s vulgar words as well. But while there is overlap, these are two separate concepts. Many vulgar words are not slang, and much slang is not vulgar.

Slang terms for vulgar words may be more acceptable than the words they replace, e.g. screwing, doodoo, wiener. You can get away with these in contexts where the real words wouldn’t be acceptable.

In most cases, if it is not acceptable to use fucking, shit or cock, it is best to use the more formal coitus, faeces or penis.

In an essay or scientific article, perhaps (or if you’re Sheldon Cooper). But the slang terms I used are now often acceptable on TV or in conversation where the more vulgar ones would not be. That’s the kind of context I was talking about,


“shit” is norwegian for dust.

But that probably includes insect dust…

The trouble with the vulgar words is plethora of meanings… do you mean it in the literal way or in the euphemism way.

My etymological dictionary from the 30s has two entries, fk and ct which it describes as the only S[tandard] E[nglish] words that cannot be printed anywhere in the English speaking world. But they have long histories. Things have changed in 80 years, of course.

One of my persona campaigns is to get shit off the vulgar list. It is a word that expresses an idea no other word does. When someone says “oh, SHIT,” you know it’s bad.

Please accept "shit in everyday language.

I’ve seen it printed in newspapers and magazines (particularly as “bullshit”), usually when quoting someone, when that would not have been done decades ago.

“Slang” is a remarkably difficult thing to pin down. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it (noun entry 3, sub-entry 1.a.) as “The special vocabulary used by any set of persons of a low or disreputable character; language of a low and vulgar type” (harrumph!) followed by a more modern definition (n.3, 1.c.) “Language of a highly colloquial type, considered as below the level of standard educated speech, and consisting either of new words or of current words employed in some special sense.”

So, I would say that “Alice and Bob screwed every night on their honeymoon” is slang (and perhaps mildly vulgar); “screwed” is a “current word” that is here being “employed in some special sense”. (Alice and Bob are having sexual intercourse, not assembling pre-fab furniture.) “Alice and Bob fucked every night on their honeymoon” is vulgar, but not slang, since “fuck” is an old English word (of Anglo-Saxon origin) literally meaning “to have sexual intercourse with”. “Alice and Bob had sexual intercourse every night on their honeymoon” is neither slang nor vulgar (although vulgarity is also a bit hard to pin down, and really prudish types will likely consider that statement to be a bit indelicate; but perhaps the statement is part of some medical report, after Alice and/or Bob suffered some kind of sexual-intercourse-related injury). “Alice and Bob made love every night on their honeymoon” is more “polite”; it’s also euphemistic, but such euphemisms probably wouldn’t be considered “slang”.

“Bob screwed the new bookshelves together” is not slang, as the word “screwed” is here being used literally, and not in any special (colloquial or non-literal) sense; nor is it vulgar (although some low-minded or immature types might snicker at any use of the word). “Bob got totally fucked by Alice in the divorce settlement” is both vulgar and slang, since clearly we are no longer talking about literal acts of sexual intercourse.

Just to round it out, “each bathroom tile has a groovy side on the bottom and a smooth side on the top” is not slang; “Whoa, Bob! Those new bookshelves are totally groovy!” is not vulgar, but is presumably slang (unless for some reason the new bookshelves have grooves on them).

What is this “vulgar” thing?

A major meaning of the word “vulgar” is that the vulgar language is the language of the people. CF “vulgate”. To the English upper classes, anything vulgar was declasse: everything declasse was vulgar. Vulgar words were vulgar because they were used by the vulgar, ie the people who were not PLU, not gentlemen, not living off their capital, not the aristocracy.

Vulgar, not slang:
They went to bed and fucked.
Please don’t shit on the floor.
My cunt itches.

Vulgar and slang both:
Looks like my carburetor is fucked.
Be honest, don’t shit me.
Quit acting like such a cunt.