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The F-word: how often do people really look it up?

If you are a seasoned OxfordWords reader, you may be familiar with our periodic search monitor pieces. These are interactive tag clouds, each showing a month’s snapshot of the relative frequency with which you, the users of OxfordDictionaries.com, access different words.

The words and ranks you see are drawn from our web statistics package and represent real traffic to the site. That said, the list of words does receive a little light pruning before going live in the word cloud. We remove any words that have featured as our Word of the Day during the time the statistics were gathered because the search monitor pieces are meant to be a representation of the interesting or useful words you are finding for yourselves rather than those we suggest you take a look at.

We also remove from the tag cloud any words that are vulgar or obscene. Here at OxfordDictionaries.com we cater for a huge audience representing a wide range of sensibilities on such matters and we prefer all our site visitors to be happy with what they see. Not all of you wish to be presented with four-letter words! So in penance for that minor act of self-censorship, here follows a short examination of the role of one of these naughty words in our traffic figures.

There is a rude word that always appears in the top twenty. It’s not acceptable to say it on television so I won’t repeat it here, but it begins with ‘f’ and it has several euphemisms in various forms (such as this and this). It is unlikely that many of those searching for it are not already familiar with the rich variety of its meaning so it is more probable that its popularity stems from the novelty value of seeing it presented here in the sober surroundings of an *Oxford* dictionary.

As the graph below shows, in February the F-word spent more time in the top twenty most popular words than it did outside them, and it was only eclipsed on the final day of the month because of the release of our latest new words update.


It is likely that there will be those among our audience who would prefer that we did not feature words like this one. Yet it would be disingenuous for us to pretend we do not have these words in our dictionary: we strive to present an accurate record of the language as it is used and without those words our record of today’s English would be incomplete.


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