Zak Washington's Guide to England - title graphic

Non-statist, non-profit, libertarian English language and culture course.

section title with the words 'lesson sixteen'

In LESSON 16 you will learn all the English vocabulary for how to swear in English.

We will explain step-by-step how to understand the grammar and nuances of bad language

After we will give you tips on how to speak better English.

Finally students will practice with communication activities, quizzes and games.

Vintage culture: Old Bond three-wheel vehicle.

Vintage culture: Old Bond three-wheel vehicle. 

Zak Washington's Guide to England - title graphic

Zak Washington, the corrupt English teacher, is too lazy to work at the language school, so he is taking his group of students to visit a ‘cultural’ place of interest. Today we are going to…..


Zak Washington's English Adventure - graphic


Note: The following chapter contains some language that could be considered offensive. This kind of vocabulary, in the mouths of foreigners, almost always sounds stupid. Not understanding the exact meanings and limitations of these words will get you into trouble. But obviously, you need to know this language, if you hear people using it directed at you! There will, of course, be times when that irritating girl on the bus needs insulting, or when your neighbour won’t turn the music down, and normal English that you’ve learnt at school just isn’t colourful enough. Just please learn how to use swearwords correctly. We don’t want you getting beaten up, do we? Oh, and one more thing. We’re all adults, yeah? We like to have a bit of fun, right? Let’s all learn to swear. Just don’t offend anyone in class, eh?


ZAK WASHINGTON: A very good afternoon to you students from Her Majesty’s Prison Woodworm Shrubs!

GIOVANNI: (Crying) Oh shut up you bloody idiot! This is all your fault!

ZAK WASHINGTON: Naff off[1], you big baby! And stop moaning[2]! You should look on the bright side. We escaped the death penalty, didn’t we?

AJMET: Yeah, but that’s only because they don’t have the death penalty in Britain.

ZAK WASHINGTON: Yeah well... that’s not important. What is important is that this place is a linguistic gold mine. By the time you get out of here you’ll all be fluent in English! Good news, eh?

GIOVANNI: It’s bloody terrible news. I’ll be forty-one years old! I wanted to learn to speak proper English!  Now I’m going to end up talking like a good-for-nothing criminal. Like you!

ZAK WASHINGTON: Shut up! This is a perfect opportunity to engage with some of Great Britain’s most colourful and intriguing personalities. And it’s a good job because you are going to be sharing a jail cell with them.



AJMET: I don’t like the look of some of these people in here. Look at those inmates[3]! They look really nasty [4]!

ZAK WASHINGTON: What are you talking about! Don’t worry about them! That’s the Charles Street Gang. They’re nothing to worry about.

AJMET: What did they do?

CHRIS OFF: They’ve carried out some of the biggest crimes in Britain, and over the years have built up one of the most deadly and powerful underworld organisations that exist. They blew up forty seven people, held up a dozen banks, ripped off the crown jewels, knocked off  top Scotland Yard policemen, paid off the jury, and then chopped up the judge! 16.1. Explain (or guess!)

GIOVANNI: Things don’t come much worse than that!

AJMET: Yes, they do. You are going to share a cell with them!

ZAK WASHINGTON: If you lot are going to survive in this place I’m going to have to teach you how to talk and swear like real criminals[5]. Let’s begin with the mild[6] ones first. 


[1] Naff off (verb) an old, slightly out-of-date swearword, that could be described as mild, or inoffensive. Interestingly, it has been ‘adopted’ by the BBC, as a socially acceptable euphemism for more offensive insults like f*ck off or p*ss off, which are considered too strong for evening or daytime television. Naff off can be commonly heard in prison scenes in soap-operas, or when the characters need to use more colourful language. As you have probably noticed, most phrasal verbs ending in ‘off’ in their imperative form, are swearwords. Many other inoffensive verbs exist too. Clear off is another alternative, which means little more than ‘go away’. Even children have their own milder swearwords like buzz off or flip off.

[2] To moan (regular verb) moan (noun) to express displeasure, discomfort or annoyance. This is what you would say if you spoke negatively about something when you were in a bad mood. It is a synonym of to complain when it is a verb. As nouns the meanings are completely different. A moan is a noise that you would make when you are in either pleasure or in pain. A complaint isn’t a noise; it is a statement, either written or spoken, that expresses your unhappiness about something.

[3] Inmate (noun) a prisoner.

[4] Nasty (adj.) horrible, cruel, mean, aggressive, obscene, indecent, gross, malicious, etc.

[5] Crime (noun) criminal (adj.) (noun –person) illegal actions or acts. In English, unlike many other languages, a crime refers to any type of illegal act, whether it be big or really small. A criminal could be a person committing an unimportant act like stealing a yoghurt from the local supermarket, or a serious important act, such as murder.

Mild (adj.) not strong.

British culture: Zak Washington - english teacher in a prison cell in Wormwood Scrubs prison
graphic with foreign student's English class discussion about taboo language


[1] Bitch (noun) You will notice that this word has been put into the mild (not strong) section of swearwords. This is because it is one of the most misunderstood swearwords in the world of English as a second language. It is, of course, offensive. The literal meaning is a female dog. This word doesn’t, like some dictionaries say, mean prostitute or whore. It is essentially, a female swearword, used by women to talk about other women. If usually means a woman who talks badly about other people, although natives use it, sometimes, to refer to men. Thus ‘a bitchy comment’ (adj.) would be to say a rude remark about someone else. In similar context, it can mean simply ‘to moan’. ‘He’s always bitching about how little they pay him.’ As a noun, the other meaning is ‘a hard, difficult situation.’ ‘Life’s a bitch, and then you die.’ It should be mentioned that phonetically it is often confused with ‘beach’, and is probably best to avoid. Son of a bitch (pronounced as one word) is another American swearword that isn’t as strong as it is when translated into other languages. Can you imagine the president of your country using a similar word in your language? Well US president Franklin D. Roosevelt used it in public speeches to talk about the Nicaraguan dictator Somoza; He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.

graphic with foreign student's English class discussion about taboo language


[1] C*nt (noun) This is by far the most offensive word in the British English vocabulary. Just how offensive is difficult to explain. The literal meaning is the female  organ, but then the swearword twat refers to the same thing but is not nearly as offensive. What is important, is that you understand that you are calling, or being called, much more than just female genitalia! Whereas some English swearwords can be fun and useful, this one is neither. It is always offensive and without an charm. Foreigners can’t usually pronounce this word, and it sounds ridiculous if they do. This is why you should pay special attention to the pronunciation of the modal auxiliary can’t.

Lesson sub-headings title graphic with the words: 16.4 Discussion

Can you think of any other swearwords? Which of the above swearwords are only possible with men? And which are only possible with women? Do you think swearing is more common in your country? What subjects are considered acceptable and unacceptable targets for insults? How much do you swear yourselves? How important is swearing?

Learn English with Zak Washington logo on royal standard flag
paragraph title graphic with the word 'Homework'
graphic of a dirty old piece of paper with students' English language homework assignment written on it
Zak Washington's English Adventure - graphic

Before we say goodbye, there is time for one more quick stop on our ‘tourist itinerary’. It’s in the scenic centre of London, on the junction of Parkhurst Road and Camden Road. Her Majesty’s Women’s Prison Holloway! Let’s take a look inside! There are problems in the shower room. Sophie, Anja, and Maria are refusing to get undressed and into the shower with Francesca.

SOPHIE: (Shouting and crying.) I don’t care if he’s had transmogatory regenderfication treatment or not! I’m not getting into the shower naked with that freak!

MARIA: (Screaming and hysterically crying.) Why didn’t I just go to a normal bloody language school, with normal students, and a normal teacher? .....I want to go home back to Chile! ...I’m not taking a shower with that bloody weirdo! Oh God! What a nightmare!

PRISON WARDEN: Get in the bleeding shower now, you bloody foreign sod!


....and so with that sad note our story comes to an end. And don’t forget students. Next time your teacher asks to show you the ‘real’ side of Britain, don’t waste your time! Just go down and buy yourself an underground ticket. They are expensive, but not that expensive. Don’t even think about not paying. Buy yourself a tourist travel ticket that lets you see all the tourist destinations: Madam Tussaud’s, Big Ben, the Tower of London, Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square. The ticket only costs £29.99 and is available, on special offer, from ‘The Kebab Delight' restaurant, a wonderful place on the Old Kent Road. Ask for an Algerian gentleman who speaks great English. You can practice with him all day for free. Tell him that Zak Washington, your English teacher, sent you... so forget about those books. C’mon!

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