A unique survey of the swearing habits of men and women over the past 20 years has revealed that not only is the English language constantly discovering new ways to be rude, but women are using the f-word more often than men.
With the help of 376 volunteers who submitted recordings of up to three hours of their daily conversations, British researchers have amassed a language database of 10m words. Half of them have been transcribed so far.
The full results will not be published until 2018, but the most striking conclusions so far confirm that men are no longer the champs when it comes to effing and blinding.
Data from the 1990s showed that men used the f-word 1,000 times per million words; women used it only 167 times.
By 2014 the f-word was popping up only 540 times per million words among men — and 546 times among women.
“It looks like there were a set of men who said it a lot in the early Nineties, and they influenced the women to do it, and then it levelled down,” said Professor Tony McEnery, research director of the Economic and Social Research Council, which sponsored the survey in conjunction with Lancaster University and the Cambridge University Press (CUP).
The CUP uses the study for its dictionaries and in its teaching materials for English as a foreign language.
In the early 1990s women tended to say “shit” four times as often as men; by 2014 they were saying it more than 10 times as often.
McEnery added: “As equality drives on, the idea that there is male and female language, that there are things which men and women should or should not say, is going to be eroded . . . gentlemanly behaviour and ladylike language should become something of the past.”
As the outspoken US actress Lena Dunham told an audience at the Royal Festival Hall in 2014: “There’s nothing I love more than a swearing woman. I think it’s a really good look.”
Other findings suggest that vulgar language has changed dramatically since the last time researchers compiled an extensive archive of spoken English in the early 1990s.
Several racist and homophobic words in common usage 20 years ago have begun to disappear. New entries such as “f***wit”, “f***tard” and “abso-bloody-lutely”, confirm that the centuries-old search for novel profanity is still alive.
“This is the first time in the history of the human race that we have been able to study changes in speech over a period of 20 years,” said McEnery “These data sets are very rare. The British are the first to achieve this, to see how English has changed over the years.”
Equally notable in the new survey was evidence that the racist n-word has all but vanished from conversation, unless people are talking about rap music lyrics or discussing racism. Similarly, homophobic references to “faggots” or “pansies” have become “vanishingly rare,” said McEnery.
Paradoxically, traditional swearing appears to be “more acceptable around society now and we should not expect it to be suppressed as often as it was in the past,” he said.
McEnery’s provisional results indicate that swearing is most prevalent among twentysomethings.
It begins to ebb at 50 and sharply declines with age, although no one seems to have told Sir Bob Geldof. The 65-year-old rocker was booed at the Brentwood festival in Essex in July after accusing fans of “wearing wall-to-wall f****** Primark.”
Internet studies have also established — to no one’s surprise — that swearing is rife online. A large-scale survey of 51m English-language posts on Twitter found in 2014 that one in 13 tweets contained a curse word, and there has certainly been no shortage of abuse spawned by Brexit and the US presidential race.
Yet researchers generally agree that people write things online they would not dream of saying in the real world.
McEnery’s study is restricted to spoken English as a more reliable guide to long-term language change.
Nicholas Hellen is Social Affairs Editor of The Times.
Photo caption: Kim Sears, then Andy Murray’s fiancée, aims a volley of four-letter words at his opponent, Tomas Berdych, in Melbourne in 2015.
Article courtesy of The Times.
Article link: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/the-swearer-sex-women-use-f-word-more-than-men-kd87fmspc