English is a Four-Letter Word

conversation-545621_1280When someone in the U.S. uses the term “four-letter word,” they are referring to those words in English that are considered “obscene” or “vulgar”  – that is, bad language that you would not say in front of your mother, your teacher, or your boss. We call these “four-letter words” even though some of them have more or less than four letters.

We do this because many of the obscene words in English are one syllable, and many of them have four letters, including perhaps the most famous one which begins with the letter “f,” which we call the “f-word.” Some of the less vulgar ones are “hell,” which refers the very unpleasant place that some people believe bad people will go when they die (sometimes capitalized – “Hell”), or “damn,” something you would say to curse someone or if something bad happens to you.

From our common use of four-letter words comes the popular expression: “________ is a four-letter word.” This phrase means that this thing, whatever it is, is unpleasant, very bad, or causes you terrible problems and you want to express how much you dislike it or how much trouble it has caused you.

Some popular phrases are:
– “Love is a four-letter word.”
– “Work is a four-letter word.”
In these two examples, “love” and “work” actually have four letters.

But, we can also use this expressions with longer or shorter words, such as:
– “Trust is a four-letter word.” Trust is the belief in the reliability or truth of something or someone.
– “Rejection is a four-letter word.” Rejection, when used it to talk about love and relationships, refers to someone refusing the love and affection they are offered.
Of course, “trust” and “rejection” have more than four-letters, but the idea (and the joke) is that these things have the same meaning as four-letter words — they are bad and they make you want to curse them.

If you’ve been trying to improve your English for a long time, you might say: “English is four-letter word!”

~ ESLPod Team

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*This post was adapted from “What Insiders Know” from Cultural English 54. To see the rest of the Learning Guide, including a Glossary, Sample Sentences, Comprehension Questions, a Complete Transcript of the entire lesson and more, become a Select English Member.
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3 Responses to English is a Four-Letter Word

  1. emiliano says:

    Some how we are surprised of how much educated use to be English language
    among English people.
    So many please, pardon me, would you like, I would like to, may you please
    give me the glass, and so forth.
    Spanish are more direct here in Spain and of course in Madrid. I could be natural
    that we Spanish may look rude for the English when we speak their language.
    Direct a very personal, it seems we Spanish are giving orders instead of asking

    We don´t say ” I would like to know” we say “tell me”
    We don´t say “do you mind if I ….” we say we are going to instead
    We don´t say “how much it costs please” we say “cuanto vale” which is the price

    So, four letter word?

    let me laugh, ja, ja, ja
    Here in Madrid city people born in the city or if they have come here being young
    they, me, use to say continuously “joder” “no jodas” but with a special entonation that sounds more or less so:
    “jooo der” to express surprise, astonishment, or if something goes bad.

    So the word fu.. it is the normal word in the mouth of the madrileños “people
    born or living in Madrid for long”

    When I have studied the English language I could see so polite form of talking
    that of course I try to imitate when speaking it, but not if I am speaking my
    own language “Castellano” or “Spanish”
    Sometime I prefer to say castellano instead of spanish because this language
    begun to use in Castilla from the Latin Language.

    That all my friends for the moment.


  2. Peter says:

    It all depends on how one looks at it.
    I go out on a limp here and say :
    I don’t think for the people around Eslpod block , English actually is hellish!!
    If anything ,it is heaven!!

    You know what I mean?

    U never hear me whine :
    ” Learning English is pain. Man ,that is hell!!!”

    In fact ,to me ,it is the exact opposite.

    From where I m sitting , that is living. I mean learning English is very joyful.

    The perspective , on the subject matter, may vary from one individual to another.

    Even , it is statistically unlikely that every single person out there perceives his /her work or even his /her work place purgatory.
    Some people actually lover their jobs.
    Don’t look at me ,I hate its guts. I mean,I hate my job with passion.

    I m telling you ,though some people truly love their vocations.

    I know ,it is hard to believe .
    They are out there ,man
    There are people out there who enjoy their damn line of work.

    Believe you me ,they do!

    Take my friend for example,He literally live for his job.
    Talks about it like 24/7
    He is a software programmer working for IBM.
    His position : director

    Yup , you guess right !!
    He makes a load of money
    But it is beside the point.

    U totally could make tons of money yet hate doing you are do.

    See what I mean?
    My friends works like 8/9 hours a day -5 days a week -with his head glued to the computer screen.
    And ,You think , he just go to a bar or sth to let his hair down after he is done with the day?
    If u do ,u couldn’t be more wrong my friends.
    instead , he goes straight home to -get that -work on the game apps he is writing.

    Nothing fancy!!
    Some plain compute games.

    He lives for this stuff , I tell you

    Hence ,
    “hell for me might be heaven for you.”


  3. emiliano says:

    In fact Peter who is the one that loves his/her work?
    Very few I think, may be a good doctor, and investigator or just a free lancer
    who works on the right work that likes him or her giving to that work the time
    she or he likes without a chief on their backs looking over their shoulder.

    No my friend, few people loves really what they do.

    Look at me, I was doing for years a work that was easy, very easy for my possibilities, it was under my level by all means. But my work gives me enough
    to survive and maintain my family decently.
    It gives me also lot of time to do which ever thing I like to do after I was out the
    Bank´s office.
    Inside the office I worked hard, but doing just what I want to do knowing perfectly well it was good done. Not any chief could said me anything as usually I knew to much more than them.
    It likes me the work? no, evidently, but it was a short hour work and some how I was comfortable doing it without any complication.

    Along my life I have seen very few people doing what they really like to do as a work to earn their way of life.
    Money lack of importance after all if you have not enough time to spend it. Working very hard and spending lot of hours it is possible you may earn a lot of money, but where is the time to spend it? When you were a retired man or woman?
    Let me laugh, ja ja ja
    No my friend, being a retired the usual could be you have not enough health to
    spend your money and prefer to be at home relaxing on the coach, may be reading a book, listening to music, or watching the tv., what is really bad.
    To do these it is not necessary to have a lot of money, I could say that for myself
    and frequently these ways of spending your time as reading, listening music, or watching a good movie they are forbidden if you have not created the habit along
    the years of seeding them into your previous life.
    I do think you are seeding good habits when you talk about English, books and other subjects, just pass over you work and cultivate that good habits for future
    if you live enough.

    Thank you Peter, a nice good topic to talk about
    It touch me directly now that I live alone.

    For instance yesterday and today I have talked with my cat Gatufo only.
    By the phone I have talked with my dear Cuca as we do every day.

    Now I am talking with you touching on the keyboard, that´s good.

    By the way I have been in silence, except when I have been watching the serial “House of Cards” that is really good, and this silence is really nice and healthy, from time to time, for the mind.

    Again thank you Peter, just a pleasure to read you.


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