Four-letter words

Warning: four-letter words (obviously)

The writer of one of the language blogs I regularly read and occasionally comment on has started a new blog called ‘Strong Language’ (obvious warning), devoted to free-ranging discussion of swearing. I’ve glanced at it, but probably won’t read it regularly. I posted the following on his main blog.

“One day in Korea, the textbook had a lesson on idioms based on numbers eg seventh heaven, cloud nine. One of the questions was ‘Do you ever use four-letter words?’. The first time I used that textbook, I tried to explain what ‘four-letter words’ were, without actually using any of them, and the students didn’t have a clue what on earth I was talking about. After the lesson I was speaking to an American colleague, and I asked ‘How do you explain “four-letter words” without using any of them?’ and he replied ‘You don’t’ – then proceeded to reel off about 10 of them in a row without pausing for breath. That evening I mentioned this to my advanced class, and one impeccable 30-something-ish woman said ‘Oh you mean words like ‘fuck’!’. I thought ‘Now that you’ve mentioned it – yes!’.

The next time I used that textbook, I wrote ‘f*ck’ and ‘sh*t’ on the board and said ‘You’ve heard enough American movies and tv shows – you know what these words are’.”

Later, I got thinking about other literally four-letter words, and compiled: life, live, love, hope, pray, good food, fine wine, kiss your wife, help your mate, sing a song, play a tune, read a book, talk, chat, joke, swim, hike, long walk, cool rain, dusk, moon, dawn, Bach.


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