"Your mum!" Swearing by mother in English, Spanish and Norwegian teenage talk

Kristine Hasund

Universitetet i Agder

Access to three audiorecorded corpora of spontaneous teenage conversation provided an opportunity to study the use of 'swearing by mother' in such diverse languages as English,  Spanish and Norwegian (Drange, Hasund & Stenström 2014, Hasund, Drange & Stenström 2014). The corpora used were The Bergen Corpus of London Teenage Language (COLT), Corpus Oral de Lenguaje Adolescente de Madrid (COLAm), and Språkkontakt och Ungdomsspråk i Norden (UNO-Oslo). The study is quantitative as well as qualitative. The classification of the pragmatic functions of swearing is based on Ljung (2011), who makes a distinction between ritual insults, name-calling, expletive interjections and intensifiers, all of which are either sexually offending or refer to unattractive personal qualities.

It appeared that, while the Spanish swearing consisted almost exclusively of expressions to do with prostitution, the English and Norwegian swearing was much more varied. Swearing by mother turned out to be particularly common in Spanish, less common in English and extremely infrequent in Norwegian. The reason for the Spanish dominance seems to be that the Spanish expressions have undergone a long process of fixation and routinization. A classic example is puta madre ('whore mother), which has developed from a negative to a positive expression, as in es un tío de puta madre ('he's a fantastic guy'). An interesting finding is that swearing by mother was used by girls as well as boys in all age groups, which is in line with the gender levelling that is going on with respect to swearing in general.



Drange, E-M., Hasund, I.K. & Stenström, A-B. 2014. “’Your mum!’ Teenagers’ use of mother swearwords in English, Spanish and Norwegian”. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics 19:1, 29-59.


Hasund, I.K., Drange, E-M. & Stenström, A-B. 2014. "The pragmatic functions of swearing by mother in English, Spanish and Norwegian teenage talk”. In Rathje, M (ed.) Swearing in the Nordic countries. Copenhagen 6 December 2012. Sprognævnets konferenceserie 2. København: Dansk Sprognævn, 11-35.


Ljung, M. 2011. Swearing. A Cross-cultural Linguistic Study. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.

Publisert 26. apr. 2016 16:58 - Sist endret 26. apr. 2016 16:58