"The ability to generate taboo language is not an index of overall language poverty," wrote the researchers behind a new study published in the journal Language Sciences. "A voluminous taboo lexicon may better be considered an indicator of healthy verbal abilities.”
Stated plainly, people don’t swear because they lack the words with which to express themselves. They swear because that's how they want to express themselves -- and they tend to know MORE words than people who don’t.
But that isn't necessarily a good thing, as some of the most common swear words in the study have connotations that degrade women. In the study, "expressive" swear words were uttered more frequently than slurs except when those slurs pertained to women. Terms like "bitch" were uttered almost as frequently as those common words you might shout if you hit your finger with a hammer. And that suggests society still has a very long way to go.
Granted, the small study's subjects skewed young -- researchers tested just 43 college students, aged 18 to 22. Each was asked to recite as many swear words as they could in one minute and name as many animals as they could in one minute. In the end, researchers found that people who named more animals could also name more swear words. Their findings support the theory that "fluency is fluency": If someone knows a large number of words overall, then swear words are bound to be included.
What's more, it takes smarts to swear correctly. The researchers say subtle nuances attached to slur words prove "the presence of more rather than less linguistic knowledge" in those who use them. Let's hope they use that knowledge for good.
Surprisingly (or perhaps not), men and women showed equal proficiency for coming up with curses.
"Years ago, you think you would've seen more men swearing in public than women," researcher Timothy Jay of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts told HuffPost. "But among the students we tested, women showed no difference."
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