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.