Swearing like a trooper, a trucker, a sailor and . . . a starling?

December 13, 2022

At Strong Language, the sweary blog about swearing, I have a new post up about the idiom swear like a [X]. After seeing the phrase swear like a trooper (maybe in Beryl Bainbridge’s A Quiet Life), I got to wondering how it arose; a few hours later I had found more [X]s than I’d ever imagined existed.

Some are common, others less so but familiar, and there are many, many obscure variants, plays on the clichés, and predictable/peculiar one-offs. And that’s before we even look at equivalent expressions in other languages, which is where the starling in the post title comes in (Czech, as it happens).

After looking at why trooper and sailor are the usual objects, I dug into the corpus data, which produced some graphs and lists of fun phrases: swearing like a sailor’s parrot, a drunken bushwhacker, a surly barmaid, and a foul-mouthed trooper stubbing their toe on a slang dictionary, for example.

Table showing frequencies of various words in the expression 'swear like a [X]' and equivalents with 'swears', 'cursing', etc., in four language corpora: NOW, iWeb, COCA, and COHA. The figures for four words are as follows. Sailor: 288. 181, 62, 12. Trooper: 87, 74, 4, 14. Trucker: 24, 18, 4, 3. Pirate: 5, 6, 1, 7.

Sample of data on ‘[swear] like a [X]’ in various language corpora

Read the rest of this entry »