English insults and curse words – a useful guide

What words do we particularly savor when learning a new language? Insults and curse words, no doubt about it.

The reasons for swearing and insults are multiple, here are just a few: Creating complicity with your fellows, finding solidarity in your mutual hatred of something, blowing off some steam, shocking your second grade school teacher, and sometimes just to express yourself. To help you along your journey towards colorful language, Gymglish (online English lessons) has selected five insults that will make heads turn. Ye be warned.


A classic British insult. Originally applied to someone who was drunk, “tosspot” has come to mean anyone who behaves like an idiot. 

The verb “toss” means to throw. Before, beer was historically served in ceramic pots, so a “tosspot” was someone who drank with exceptional vigor, literally throwing the pot over their head. Today, a “tosspot” refers to someone who is ridiculous, obnoxious, unpleasant… A total jerk in other words.

Did you know?  This insult appears in the song which closes Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

Level of vulgarity: ++


This one is not for the faint of heart. A “douchebag” is a character with a range of negative personality traits: rude, obnoxious, arrogant, annoying, creepy, heavy-handed, sexist… “Douchebag” contains multitudes. 

The origin of the word dates back to 1939 with the novel Ninety Times Guilty by Hickman Powell, featuring a certain Jimmy Douchebag. By 1946, the word seems to have been mostly used in a military context, to refer to “someone unfit for service”. For years, it was considered a unisex term and in 1967 American Speech magazine applied the term to “an unattractive female student”, and “by extension, any individual whom the speaker wishes to denigrate”. But today, there can be no doubt that “douchebags” are almost exclusively men (sorry, guys).

Bonus info: Douche literally refers to a sanitary product for cleaning the vagina. You can see how nervous this makes our editors.

Level of vulgarity: ++++

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This next entry has become politicized and polarized of late, particularly in the United States. “Snowflakes,” as in something delicate to the touch and ephemeral like a tiny bit of snow, refers to people who take great offense at certain things.  “Snowflakes” are mocked by their contemporaries for their perceived weakness of character and naïveté. The term is now used in political circles and on social media by American conservatives to ridicule liberals who are “too sensitive”, “too politically correct” and who raise challenges on issues such as racism, sexism or xenophobia. One of the first mainstream uses of the term “Snowflake” as an insult comes from the novel and film Fight Club. In an anti-capitalist tirade, Tyler Durden’s character (Brad Pitt) rants: “You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else. We’re all part of the same compost heap. We’re all singing, all dancing crap of the world.”

Level of vulgarity: +


Is “redneck” a slur? Yes. The term “Redneck” allegedly originates from a certain class of uneducated person, usually a farmworker in America or Canada, who often had red necks, due to their extended exposure to the sun. 

The term has a rather obscure past (just like the curse word fuck you might say), and became popular after the American Civil War, when it was used to refer to the white inhabitants in the southern states, who dropped in status in the eyes of the North. Some also claim that it was popularized during a Midwestern miners’ strike in the 1920s. Striking trade unionists were identified by a red bandana tied around their necks. 

Today, the term is used to describe a rural person, often from the south or the countryside, and conveys a sense of poor education and reactionary opinions.

Level of vulgarity: +


One of the first occurrences of the word “nerd” appears in the children’s book If I ran the Zoo, by Dr Seuss, published in 1951. It describes an imaginary creature present at an imaginary zoo.

Twenty years later, the 1974 American series Happy Days contributed to the mainstreaming of the term, which at the time meant someone who was “square”, goofy, and certainly not cool, like the Fonz. Aaaayyy.

The term“nerd” also evokes a lack of social skills, and/or a passionate interest in science, mathematics and IT or other niche interests. Note: Nerd culture (things like Star Wars, Comics books, Video Games, etc.) has more recently been reclaimed as a source of pride. It has also become a huge source of content and money for Hollywood, as the concept has become more mainstream and nostalgic to generations with power and influence. 

Level of vulgarity: +

Bonus 1: Nincompoop 

The attraction of this insult is that, apart from the joy of saying it, it is not at all vulgar (as opposed to the many ways you can use fuck). It has an old-world charm, a quaintness, it can even be used in polite company.

The etymology of the word may come from the Latin non compos mentis (“not of right mind”). Unlike the other terms here,  “nincompoop” does not have a great deal of history, but we like the way it sounds. It is used to describe a foolish or silly person. It is used rarely and may say more about the person uttering it than the person they are insulting.

Bonus 2: Scobberlotcher

A British word dating from the 1600s, ”scobberlotcher” is now an outdated insult whose origins remain murky. Lotcher could come from “loiter” and scobberlotcher” could come from scopperloit a word in old regional dialect meaning “time spent not working”. 

In concrete terms, a ”scobberlotcher” is someone who avoids work at all costs and is very good at finding excuses to faff around all day. A type of person that you will never encounter at Gymglish (by the way, we’re hiring!).

Note: Before you jump the gun, it might be a good idea for you to learn some basic French to avoid any misunderstanding.

Think you can handle more insults? Try our online English course Gymglish for free today!

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