My Kind of Study.


It’s long been associated with anger and coarseness but profanity can have another, more positive connotation. Psychologists have learned that people who frequently curse are being more honest. Writing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science a team of researchers from the Netherlands, the UK, the USA and Hong Kong report that people who use profanity are less likely to be associated with lying and deception.

Anyone who has been reading me for any length of time knows I tend to cuss. A lot. Can’t say I’ve ever considered it to be a possible mark of honesty though.

The international team of researchers set out to gauge people’s views about this sort of language in a series of questionnaires which included interactions with social media users.

In the first questionnaire 276 participants were asked to list their most commonly used and favourite swear words. They were also asked to rate their reasons for using these words and then took part in a lie test to determine whether they were being truthful or simply responding in the way they thought was socially acceptable. Those who wrote down a higher number of curse words were less likely to be lying.

This is interesting, but I have to wonder if the ability to lie was taken into account. Many children in abusive situations learn to lie extremely well. I was one of those, and while I can rarely be arsed to lie in adulthood, I am very good at it. Someone who is a good liar wouldn’t neglect a good intensifier. There’s an obvious tendency for those listening to take someone at their word, too. That would answer for people assuming someone who was cussing to be truthful, because we still have that ‘in polite company’ thing in our heads. We are, well most of us, taught that cussing isn’t polite from a very early age. Our languages are littered with euphemisms in place of cussing, which are considered to be acceptable, golly, darn, geez, etc. A lot of that has to do with so much cussing being religiously based.

A second survey involved collecting data from 75,000 Facebook users to measure their use of swear words in their online social interactions. The research found that those who used more profanity were also more likely to use language patterns that have been shown in previous research to be related to honesty, such as using pronouns like “I” and “me”. The Facebook users were recruited from across the United States and their responses highlight the differing views to profanity that exist between different geographical areas. For example, those in the north-eastern states (such as Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and New York) were more likely to swear whereas people were less likely to in the southern states (South Carolina, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi).

As a native Californian, cussing was often heard, and often a part of any conversation. Especially if you were in the surfing crowd. Here in nDakota, cussing is not heard much at all, and it’s frowned upon for the most part. That’s changed a bit over the past 20 years, but not a great deal. The more rural you go, the more frowning it gets.

The full story is here.

Comments

  1. kestrel says

    Huh! Interesting. I swear luridly and often, which helps relieve the stress of working on teeny tiny things under magnification. However, the reason I started swearing, which I did quite deliberately, was because I worked as Production Manager at a newspaper and none of the men -- like, the editor, the publisher, the writers and photographers -- would listen to me. If I told them we were behind deadline and really needed things to happen faster I was completely ignored. If I went in and said “God damn son of a bitch!” they would listen to me. Once I started swearing I found it really did relieve tension, and that if I was having trouble getting a stone to set in a ring, swearing would stop me from hurling it out the window -- a pretty counter-productive thing to do. Swearing is preferable.

  2. says

    My swearing level has gotten worse as my stress level rises, especially this last few years. I’ve been trying to drop the gendered slurs, too. So I’ve been test-driving some 19th century expressions, which is at least amusing. Georgette Heyer for the win, and all that.

    ‘Pon rep, that mutton-headed beef-witted gudgeon in the White House will drive me to distraction. Lud, I vow the pestilent creature has more hair than wit!

    Now I just have to remember to swear properly in public.

  3. Dunc says

    Come tae fuckin’ Scotland -- we fuckin’ use swearing as fuckin’ punctu-fuckin-ation. Hell, sometimes we even fuckin’ break words in fuckin’ half so that we can fuckin’ swear in the fuckin’ middle of them.

    (I swear that I’m not exaggerating about this. A local comedian once said that the most Scottish thing he’d ever heard was somebody jeering at a football match with the exclamation “Fuckin’ boo!”)

  4. says

    Dunc:

    “Fuckin’ boo!”

    That made me laugh, something that’s damn near fuckin’ impossible to pull off at 7:30 in the morning before fucking tea.

  5. kestrel says

    Cowboys do that too -- that adding swear words in the middle of ordinary words. I remember looking at a horse and being told by the owner that he “guaran-god-damn-teed” the horse would not buck. :-D

    @Anne, Cranky Cat Lady: that is brilliant. I love that. I’ve been known to refer to people as an “egg-sucking pig” and so on, but that one really takes the cake. Two thumbs up.

  6. lumipuna says

    Kestrel:

    I worked as Production Manager at a newspaper and none of the men — like, the editor, the publisher, the writers and photographers — would listen to me. If I told them we were behind deadline and really needed things to happen faster I was completely ignored. If I went in and said “God damn son of a bitch!” they would listen to me.

    Sounds like a model example of “management by expletive”, a Finnish humoristic name for the old-fashioned authoritarian management style.

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