Four-letter word

The phrase four-letter word refers to a set of English words written with four letters which are considered profane, including common popular or slang terms for excretory functions, sexual activity, and genitalia. The "four-letter" claim refers to the fact that most English swear words are monosyllabic, and therefore are likely to have four letters on average. This euphemism came into use during the first half of the twentieth century. [cite book
first=Christine | last=Ammer | year=1997
title=The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms
publisher=Houghton Mifflin Reference Books
location=New York
id=ISBN 039572774X

Common four-letter words (in this sense) include: "" ("UK"), "", "", "", "", "", "", "", and "". These, in addition to at least ten others ("", "", "", "", "", "joey", "", "", "", "", "", "", "", "", "", "", "" ("UK"), "", "", "" ("UK")), are widely considered vulgar or offensive to some degree.

Occasionally the phrase "four-letter word" is humorously used to describe any word composed of four letters. This is the case when used to mean the word "work", alleging that the speaker's or writer's audience is work-shy and treat work as undesirable, or when the game of "golf" is noted as a four-letter word because the player's chosen entertainment pastime becomes an exercise in frustration.Or|date=January 2008

imilar euphemisms in other languages

Group of profane words

* Dutch: A similar tradition occurs with "three-letter words": ("kut", "pik", "lul", "gvd")

pecific curses euphemisms

* Spanish: the word "puta" ("whore") is sometimes referred to as "cuatro letras" (four letters), for example, "Esa chica es una cuatro letras" ("That girl is a four-letters").

* Chilean Dialect: the phrase "el cuatro letras" (The "four letters") is often used as a euphemism to refer vulgar slang for the penis as there are many local slang terms consisting in four letters for that organ. Examples: Pico, Palo, Mazo, Pito, Walo, Ñaño, Copi, Nepe, Niño, etc.

* French: the word "merde" ("shit") is sometimes referred to as "le mot de cinq lettres" ("the five-letter word").

* German: the phrase "Setz dich auf deine vier Buchstaben" ("sit down on your four letters") is mainly used speaking to children, as it refers to the word "Popo", meaning "bum" in baby talk. Variants of the above phrase "Setz dich auf deine fünf Buchstaben" ("sit down on your five letters") or "Setz dich auf deine vier oder fünf Buchstaben" ("sit down on your four or five letters") allude to the vulgar use of the word "Arsch" ("arse, or ass").

* Latin: a common insult used to be "Es vir trium litterarum", meaning "you are a man of three letters". The underlying implication was that the addressed was a "fur", meaning "thief", although if challenged, the speaker could always claim he simply meant "vir", that is, "man".

* Polish: the word "dupa" ("ass") is called "cztery litery" ("the four letters")

* Russian: the word "хуй" ("cock"), the most common obscenity, is called "the three-letter word" (слово из трех букв) or just "three letters" (три буквы)


Another interesting meaning of "four-letter word" (in Greek, "tetragrammaton") is the Hebrew name of the Abrahamic God, that is, י-ה-ו-ה (commonly transliterated as "YHWH", "Yahweh", and "Jehovah"), which Jews do not speak aloud, and protect when written (see Geniza).It is an example of the quadriliteral words of Hebrew.


:Good authors too who once knew better words:Now only use four-letter words:Writing prose.:Anything goes.

:: — Cole Porter, "Anything Goes"

The fact that love is a four-letter word has been used in several popular songs, including "Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word" written by Bob Dylan and performed by Joan Baez, "Four Letter Word" written by Ricki and Marty Wilde and performed by Kim Wilde. A television show called [ "Love is a Four-Letter Word"] was produced by ABC in Australia. The band Cake also made a play on words in their song "Friend is a Four Letter Word," while The Blood Brothers took their prose in a different direction with their song "Love Rhymes with Hideous Car Wreck," which still stays true to the original meaning. In a song sung by Cilla Black and covered by The Smiths, " Work Is a Four-Letter Word" this phrase is used to describe work as obscene. Welsh punk band Four Letter Word formed in 1991, named themselves after the phrase, which in turn later inspired locals The Lostprophets to also parody the phrase in their song "Five Is A Four Letter Word". Jack ingram's song "Love You", uses love as a play on another four letter word,"Yeah, I'm sick an' lovin' tired of all your lovin' around"

A famous citing of the majority of these words was in the FCC's censorship of comedian George Carlin's radioplay of his comedy routine 'The Seven Words You Can't Say On Television.'

See also



Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Four Letter Word — «Four Letter Word» Сингл Beady Eye из альбома …   Википедия

  • Four-Letter-Word — Four|let|ter|word auch: Four Let|ter Word 〈[fɔ:lɛ̣təwœ:d] n. 15〉 vulgäres Schimpfwort [engl., eigtl. „Wort aus vier Buchstaben“, nach engl. fuck „koitieren“] * * * Four Let|ter Word [fɔ: lɛtɐwə:d ], das; s, s [engl. four letter word, eigtl. =… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • four-letter word — four letter words N COUNT A four letter word is a short word that people consider to be rude or offensive, usually because it refers to sex or other bodily functions. Syn: swear word …   English dictionary

  • Four Letter Word — est un single du groupe Beady Eye dont le clip (réalisé par Julian House et Julian Gibbs) se déroule dans une ambiance psychédélique au milieu d un club privé de Londres, où Beady Eye interprète le morceau. Vraisemblablement, le titre est une… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Four-Letter-Word — Four Let|ter Word [...lɛtəwə:d] das; s, s <aus gleichbed. engl. four letter word, eigtl. »Vierbuchstabenwort«, nach engl. (to) fuck »Geschlechtsverkehr ausüben«> vulgäres [Schimpf]wort [aus dem Sexualbereich] …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • four-letter word — n a word that is considered very rude and offensive, especially one relating to sex or body waste = ↑swearword …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • four-letter word — noun count one of the short words considered rude or offensive by most people …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • four-letter word — ► NOUN ▪ any of several short words regarded as coarse or offensive …   English terms dictionary

  • four-letter word — ☆ four letter word [fôr′let΄ər ] n. any of several short words having to do with sex or excrement and generally regarded as offensive or objectionable …   English World dictionary

  • four-letter word — noun any of several short English words (often having 4 letters) generally regarded as obscene or offensive • Syn: ↑four letter Anglo Saxon word • Hypernyms: ↑word * * * noun, pl ⋯ words [count] 1 : an offensive word and especially an offensive… …   Useful english dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.