Do we swear more today?

It’s well documented that we swear more in the media (meaning film, tv, and literature). It’s also well documented that we think we swear more today -at least in the U.S.

But do we really swear more today than we used to? I’m asking mainly from an American perspective, but I’m interested in international views as well.

I just have a hard time imagining a sheriff on the American frontier saying “Gee wiz!” when they get shot by an outlaw in the middle of a whorehouse. And by the same token, I have a hard time imagining folks watch their tongues drinking booze and smoking weed illegally at speakeasies during the 20s.

Is there any documentation of everyday profanity throughout history?

What is the documentation that we think we swear more in the U.S. today?

There’s no reason to think that we swear more or less than in earlier times, but I can’t imagine how you would document that. At best you would have anecdotal accounts of people swearing, which would be exactly as meaningless statistically as all other anecdotal reports.

I don’t think we have good documentation of swearing today. It would take following a statistically valid sampling of people around for hours or days to get a variety of situations and recording every word. That seems too expensive for an academic study. There may be some small-scale studies but I’m not sure how - or if - they would scale up.

You’ll get lots of opinions, but I’m highly skeptical there are facts.

My strong impression, which I don’t have evidence right now to back up, is that, in the past, most people would not think to swear in “mixed company” (when ladies were present), or in “polite society,” or where children were present. “Cursing like a sailor” was the expression, because sailor (and soldiers, and such people) lived in milieus where none of these conditions applied.

I notice far more swearing in everyday conversation than I did 20 years ago. I’ve observed far more acceptance of the word fuck. It’s no where near as shocking of a word that it used to be. Hell, even my Ma says it. When I was a kid (60’s & 70’s) fuck was the absolute worst word you could say. The reaction to it was actually amusing now that I think about it.
I always wondered about the show Deadwood. We’re people really talking that rough on the frontier in the 1800’s? I can imagine the men were, but the program showed women talking that way too. Factual?:confused:

People used to have better public manners. Or perhaps they were just quieter. The boorish jerk at a restaurant a few weeks ago was a prime example of how loud and obnoxious a segment of our society has become. This was fairly respectable place and we tried to ignore it, but his references to “Cuban pussy” were difficult to tune out. I hear teens using language in public that I would never have attempted to utter back in the day. It seems that it’s all just considered ‘communication’ and that the words have no actual meaning other than emphasis. It’s probably healthier in some aspects.

I read in a Cafe thread that the language in Deadwood was ramped up for current audiences. To the OP I would say that we swear differently. We express the same joys, angers and frustration but with different words. What is profane is a moving target.

I can definately say from my experience, yes.

I hear checkout clerks use profanity all the time as they check out customers. I don’t mean they are swearing at the customers. I mean things like “This damn, register tape.” Or “this fucking thing won’t scan.”

I never would heard that 20 years ago.

Bitch has become a common buzzword. In my day I might have said, “He was talking to some sheila about something.” Meaning he was talking to a girl. Now you’d hear “He was taking to some bitch about that.”

I live in the inner city and no one seems to be able to function without saying M-F this and M-F that constantly.

The “C-Word” meaning female genitalia is about the only thing that hasn’t transferred over.

The social taboo against swearing was very strong from the Victorian era to around the 1960s, and it lingered on.

Women were taught that they shouldn’t swear, so they’d avoid it, or use euphemistic terms: “Oh, fiddlesticks.”

Men would swear when with other men, but not when women or children were present (as Ogden Nash said, “A sailor just before for each ‘damn’/stops to wonder where he am.”)

You never saw any cursing in popular culture; hell, when Norman Mailer used “fug” in The Naked and the Dead it was a scandal. The same with the final line in Gone With The Wind (Selznick had to fight with the censors to keep it in, even though it was also in the book).

What has happened is that the private male style of cursing has gone public and into the popular culture and media.

The idea of what might be considered profane may also be changing. The most profnae words in American English usually have something to do with sex, bodily functions, and those parts of the body that are used for sex and excretory functions. In many other languages, profanities usually relate to religion; consider Quebecois French and tabernac. I think the impact of traditional profanities may be considered milder than in the recent past. However, people today seem to take more offense at ethnic slurs, and archaic terms for ethnic groups and the mentally and physically handicapped, than in the past. In the end, it all evens out; today, retarded seems to be just as unacceptable as asshole.

I remember about 25 years ago, certain second-tier and third-tier profanities would never be heard on television and the radio in the US; fart, ass, sucks, bitch, tits and balls come to mind, and damn and hell weren’t very common. The loud flushing toilet on All In The Family was scandalous, as was Alan Alda uttering son of a bitch during one episode of MAS*H.

Today, I think there’s only a few first-tier profanities; fuck, cunt, and goddamn among certain circles. Shit probably moved down to the second tier.

Apparently not. At least not as shown. But I’ve seen interviews where Milch says that he as replaced the nasty blasphemy that actually was prevalent with language that has a similar modern effect. So the damns, hells, etc get transformed to the modern sexual based swearing. The actual effect on the audience is similar (we don’t take blasphemy nearly as seriously as they did back then). But the actual words are different. Or so Milch has claimed.

Fuck! I don’t know.

I know that I don’t swear nearly as much today as I did when I was in my Twenties. You kind of grow out of using language to shock.

My dad was in the Navy during WWII. I asked him if men used the word fuck back then the way people do now. Like “the fucking gun” , “fuck you” or “fuck the enemy”, etc. He said yeah, they used it in all those ways. He told me the only difference was it was never used around women or children.
I could never take Deadwood seriously. I have no problem with the word fuck, use it myself now and then, but to me it was overused in Deadwood to the point of comedy.

Here’s some NY Times:
"…Cursing, they say, is a human universal. Every language, dialect or patois ever studied, living or dead, spoken by millions or by a small tribe, turns out to have its share of forbidden speech, some variant on comedian George Carlin’s famous list of the seven dirty words that are not supposed to be uttered on radio or television.

Young children will memorize the illicit inventory long before they can grasp its sense, said John McWhorter, a scholar of linguistics at the Manhattan Institute and the author of “The Power of Babel,” and literary giants have always constructed their art on its spine.

"The Jacobean dramatist Ben Jonson peppered his plays with fackings and “peremptorie Asses,”

… In fact, said Guy Deutscher, a linguist at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands and the author of “The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind’s Greatest Invention,” the earliest writings, which date from 5,000 years ago, include their share of off-color descriptions of the human form and its ever-colorful functions. And the written record is merely a reflection of an oral tradition that Dr. Deutscher and many other psychologists and evolutionary linguists suspect dates from the rise of the human larynx, if not before."

As for frequency, I think the assumption that swearing is worse today basically stems from our growing up. People are prone to idealize the past; The long hot summers, the snowy Christmases… the clear blue skies of out chilhood are most likely idealized recreations of reality; I know for a fact that most things are better today than they have ever been in history, still, I cannot shake the feeling that the world was a better place when I was younger. sigh I’m getting old.
Also as we grow up, we’re also taking an adult role where we no longer need to be “protected” from profanity. I did some work on a roof with my father, dropping a box of nails earned a heartfelt “mothe#%&!” from him… something I probably wouldn’t have heard a couple of decades ago… not because he’s turned curmudgeon (well, a bit… but still) since his retirement, but simply because I’m no longer a child.
It’s possible there’s a desensitization process going on; The Beatles were thought to be a corrupting influence on the youth… then came punk, heavy metal, gangster rap… Songs on the radio today would’ve shocked people nearly to death just 50 years ago. Words that held a shock value to the older generation might have become commonplace for the younger.
Some words go through the opposite process; “retard” for example was originally a value neutral diagnostic term… yet it’s currently used almost exclusively as a derogatory. There’s also a “Gropec*** Lane”… apparently the big C-word wasn’t at one time considered too offensive to be a street name. “Faggot” used to mean “bundle of sticks”…and I’m sure nobody really feels too strongly hearing “Zounds, ye fat paunch, an ye call me coward, by the Lord, I’ll stab thee.” in Henry IV… to modernize a bit “Jesus Christ, you fatass, and you call me a coward, I’ll stab you.”. Languages change over time.

Then again, what would I know; English is my third language :slight_smile:

When Band of Brothers was on HBO they interviewed the real vets the story was based on. One of them said it was accurate except they did not curse that much. Maybe he had a bad memory or maybe he personally did not curse much.

Norman Mailer famously felt constrained to alter the F-word in The Naked And The Dead. This seems to suggest that he thought soldiers and sailors used it all the time, but that the public at large would expect at least a polite fiction in casual use.

He didn’t think anything of the sort. He used fuck until the editor made him change it. The word was simply unpublishable in mainstream fiction in the 1940s. And nonfiction. And magazines. And newspapers. And television and radio and movies and comics.

Yet you- who appears to be a learned individual- can’t bring yourself to spell it out in its entirety. :wink:

Catcher in the Rye came out in 1951 and it had a lot of cursing in it. Of course a lot of people wanted to ban that book too.

On PBS’ “History Detectives,” they had a letter sent by Junius Booth, the father of John Wilkes Booth, to President Andrew Jackson demanding he pardon two pirates. In the letter, he wrote, “You damned old scoundrel, I will cut your throat whilst you are sleeping.” Supposedly, this was written during a drinking binge where one would think there would loose tongues and colorful language. Yet, it’s tamed by what many people would write nowadays.