The phrase four-letter word refers to a set of English words written with four letters which are considered profane, including common popular or
slangterms 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
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
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 quadriliteralwords 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
loveis a four-letter word has been used in several popular songs, including "Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word" written by Bob Dylanand performed by Joan Baez, "Four Letter Word" written by Ricki and Marty Wildeand performed by Kim Wilde. A television show called [http://abc.com.au/loveis "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 Blackand 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 Lostprophetsto 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.'
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