I informally polled co-workers last week at the library (ranging in age from late teens to late 50s) to help me work out how they see some of these words. I also interrogated my children, as their language is actively being formed at school by listening to the usage of others. They also get corrected when they use words that their teachers or friends think are inappropriate; people don't tend to do that when you're a grown-up!
I'm breaking my discoveries down into three main types of swearing:
Regular swearingMost of the swear-words in this section are used in both countries, although the teenager I spoke to said that she liked using the word 'bollocks', which she saw as a British swear word. Most of the usual swear words are the same, with the exception of 'pants' and 'bloody', which are much more specific to British, rather than Canadian English.*
Religious swearingThe first difference I noticed on moving here was the greater sensitivity to religious swearing. I didn't ask the women at the library about the use of the word 'God' (will have to do that next week!), but we did discuss 'damn' and 'Hell'. Neither of these last two words seems particularly taboo to me, but they are looked upon that way by my interviewees. I was fascinated to discover from my colleagues that 'Hell' is considered the worse word of the two. Which seems odd to me, as really it's just a place name. If I say "Bloody hell", then to me it's the 'bloody' bit that makes it more rude. It was interesting that the eldest of the women in the library managed to avoid saying 'Hell' even while we were discussing it, such was her aversion to the word. I guess teenagers here would not be given Paradise Lost to read, like we were.**
Swearing that isn't swearingThe day after my discussion with the library folk, I had a visit to the dentist's. There's a lovely hygienist there and we had a good chat while she was working on my teeth. Which isn't easy, as you know. One thing we talked about was the prevalence of fighting in hockey, which she described as 'stupid'.
"But I don't use that word to my son," she added.
This was a new one to me, but I asked my children about it and they confirmed that 'stupid' is another word that they are told not to use at school. My library informants told me that 'shut up' is also fairly taboo, which is interesting, given its recent change of use as an expression of incredulity in Valspeak. I'm now wondering how many other relatively inoffensive words I've been using turn out to be rude here.
ConclusionI'm not someone who swears a lot.† Not in public anyway. But what I've come to realise over the last week or so is that I probably have been swearing (to other people's ears) without even knowing it. I'm sure my observations so far are only scratching the surface!
*'Bloody' may technically be a religious swear word, but I don't think that's common knowledge (and there seems to be some debate about whether it is or not).
**Well, only the first two books, if I'm honest.
†Except where tomato hornworms are concerned