Does Cursing Mean You’re Smarter than Everyone Else?
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Do people swear because they’re too dumb to think of any other words to use? I’ve actually had this allegation leveled at me in the past, but it’s never really bothered me because I got a 7-fucking-80 on my verbal SAT so fuck you, motherfucker.
Not a lot of research has been done to try to disprove that stereotype, I guess because nobody fucking cares that much. But a new study suggests that people who use more swear words may actually have better verbal fluency than other people. Sort of.
Let’s jump right to the criticism: this study was done using a handful of psychology undergrad students at a liberal arts college. There were three separate tests performed: one with 43 students, one with 49 students, and the last one with 126 students to replicate the first two. The standard warning applies: things that a few young, mostly white, mostly well-off college kids do don’t necessarily extrapolate to the world at large.
Also, the tests measured how many swear words the students could name, not how often they themselves used those words. I’m fluent in pig Latin but I don’t go around speaking it, so you can’t really give me a test and use it to better understand someone who wanders the streets alking-tay ike-lay is-thay.
So what this study actually found was that people who can name more swear words were also more likely to be able to name more non-swear words, meaning that verbal fluency is fairly steady whether or not you’re talking about taboo words.
That’s not to say, as some headlines will tell you, “People who swear may actually be smarter than everyone else,” so don’t get a big fucking head about it.
The most interesting part of this study is the list of most common curse words college kids came up with. Back in the ‘70s, George Carlin listed the 7 words you can’t say on television, which were: shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Not much has changed in the past 40 years. The dirtiest words the college students came up with were, in order of popularity, fuck (124), shit (117), bitch (108), cunt (97), asshole (76), ass (73), damn (56), motherfucker (54), slut (51), and whore (46). I guess piss, tits, and cocksucker just aren’t that shocking anymore.
If you’re wondering where the really shocking ones are, meaning the racial and homophobic slurs (or at least more homophobic than “cocksucker”), they were the least frequently used though they did show up. Slurs against women were the only slurs that made the top 10.
One final note, while reading the study I got super confused because at one point the researchers write “Any intelligible American English taboo terms were considered words (e.g., asspirate)” [with two “S”s). For the life of me I couldn’t understand why a misspelling of “aspirate” would be considered taboo so I actually Googled it. I GOOGLED IT. It was ass-pirate. Hyphens, people. Use hyphens.