Data on perception of swearing/foul langauge, sorted demographically?
January 23, 2014 5:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for data on what is perceived as swearing, foul language, etc. - in other words, language that one person might correct another for using. In particular, I'm looking for information on how this varies according to demographics, and especially how it varies from one geographical area to another. (I'm in the U.S., and am primarily interested in U.S. data.) This doesn't have to be "scientifically accurate" information: an internet poll with enough recipients to be meaningful would be totally fine. Bonus points if the information addresses the perceived severity of the word: for example, while I'm sure there are words that are perceived as swears nearly universally in the US, I'd love to see data on how words like "damn" or "crap" would be rated in different areas.
posted by SpiralT to Society & Culture (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
In the UK. On the Escapist forum. As voted in The Online Slang Dictionary.
posted by unliteral at 5:53 PM on January 23, 2014

Thanks for the links, unliteral.

Not to threadsit, but a clarification: I'm not actually that interested in rankings within the words that are almost always considered to be swears. I'm more interested in the borderlines cases - the ones that some people consider to be swears, but others don't.

A little context might help: I'm in an ongoing conversation about what words are allowable in a professional/educational context, which got me thinking about why there is so much variation in which words people find offensive. (One person in the discussion thought "dang" was questionable, since it's just a replacement for "damn", while others had no problem with "damn" itself. The difference was in no way based on religious upbringing.)

One question I'm curious about is whether it just comes down to an overall tolerance to strong language, or whether people actually disagree about which words even count as "strong language". I'm interested in data that would help me figure this out, and also that might help me see what other factors correlate with these variations. If it turns out, for example, that almost universally the people who think "crap" is unacceptable language also think that "sucks" is, that might support the idea that people actually agree on the relative strength/offensiveness of these borderline words, but just vary in their tolerance for them. My suspicion is that it's more complicated than that, but I would like data one way or the other.
posted by SpiralT at 6:26 PM on January 23, 2014

I don't know if they would be considered swear words or not, but some varieties of protestant churches avoid saying "the G word", others avoid "the J word", and still other words are considered improper at others.
posted by yohko at 6:48 PM on January 23, 2014

The term you are looking for is "taboo words".
posted by tel3path at 2:37 AM on January 24, 2014

A academic database search for linguistic studies may help you if you have access through a library or college.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:51 AM on January 24, 2014

This BBC study is interesting--breakdowns on attitudes towards different words by male/female, age, etc.
posted by flug at 2:45 PM on January 24, 2014 [1 favorite]

flug, that's basically what I'm looking for! Now I just need a US equivalent (and preferably one that delves a bit deeper into the "mild" range).
posted by SpiralT at 5:57 PM on January 24, 2014

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