What, exactly, is swearing in Australian English? That was the question that arose during an International Cognitive Linguistics Conference session on taboo, looking at the Dutch use of diseases as swear words, which I attended in July this year. The speaker gave examples of swearing from Twitter in Dutch, but basically skipped over the borrowed English "swear words" in the posts. Later talks in the session talked about swearing by patients with Tourette Syndrome, but the speaker avoided swearing (which I found odd). The discussion turned to bloody in Australian English and whether it had fallen off the dysphemism treadmill and moved into simply emphasis. A dysphemism treadmill, like a euphemism treadmill, assumes that a word loses its negative connotations over time, and new negative forms are introduced to take over. A consensus between two British English speakers and myself was that bloody wasn’t swearing, at least in our vernaculars.

If we google "swearing definition", we get "the use of offensive language, especially as an expression of anger". Yet what’s considered offensive is specific to an individual. I am not offended by the word fuck, but if you call me an idiot I will take it personally. On the other hand, a couple on my train from Newcastle to York were outraged when a group of young people repeatedly said fucking, but had no trouble allowing anyone nearby to hear about their special birthday present (use your imagination, it got a bit ... uncomfortable). If the use of offensive language is the defining factor, then idiot or special present are just as much swearing as fuck or shit.