Gosh Darn It! Study Shows More Cussing in American Books

Photo Credit: Simon Adriaensen via Visual Hunt / CC BY-ND

There’s a significant increase in the use of swear words in American books, a sign that Americans are more accepting of taboo words, according to a recent study. The research showed that books published between 2005 and 2008 were 28 times more likely to include cussing than books published in the early 1950s.

The study was written by Jean M. Twenge, Hannah VanLandingham, and W. Keith Campbell. It was published on SAGE OPEN, an open access academic research journal.

“These findings suggest a notable decline in social taboos against swear words consistent with previous research finding evidence for increasing individualism,” wrote the researchers. Individualism was defined as “a cultural system that favors the self over social rules.”

George Carlin’s 7 Words

The study focused on the words identified by the comedian George Carlin in 1972 as “the seven words you can never say on television.” Why Carlin’s words? They were “the most taboo” words, according to the research, which examined works published in the 1950s up to the late 2000s. It made use of the Google Books database of 5 million books.

The research also attributed the increase in the use of cuss words to the desire for self-expression. “Swear words allow the free expression of emotion, especially anger,” wrote the researchers.

They noted other studies that associated swearing with high extraversion and low agreeableness, “a personality profile empirically linked to high individualism via an association with grandiose narcissism.”

The researchers picked the 1950s as the starting point of their study because that was when social rules began to change. “Over all, these findings are consistent with the observation that American culture has become more accepting of crude and coarse language,” they wrote.

Library photo by Cindy Fazzi

Read more about the study:

“Seven Words You Can’t Say in Television: Increases in the Use of Swear Words in American Books, 1950-2008”

Read articles about other studies:

Study Shows There are Only 6 Emotional Arcs for All Novels & Plays

New Study: Books Empower Readers to Do Positive Things

Exclamation point image by Simon Adriaensen via Visual Hunt /  CC BY-ND


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  1. Study Shows Dip in Prominence of Female Characters in Novels | Cindy Fazzi

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