MEGAN: Welcome to the Vocal Fries Podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination.
CARRIE: I’m Carrie Gillon.
MEGAN: And I’m Megan Figueroa. Today we’re going to be talking about swearing. One of our favorite topics, right?
CARRIE: Yes and today obviously – we’re always not-safe-for-work – but today is particularly not-safe-for-work. Just be forewarned.
MEGAN: Yeah, put your headphones in. Don’t play this around children – unless you want them to be exposed to this. It might be good for them.
CARRIE: Depending on their age, yes. There’s probably an age that’s too young, but I’m not gonna say what that is, because that’s none of my business.
MEGAN: Yeah, exactly.
CARRIE: We wanted to talk about swearing for many reasons, but partially it was just because we swear a lot, and women get judged for swearing more than men do. We wanted to explore what’s actually going on. And also, there have been a bunch of weird studies about swearing and my favorite one is the association between swearing and honesty. Supposedly there’s a correlation between those people who swear and those people who are honest, so I thought that was really fascinating. If that’s true, that would be super fun.
MEGAN: Which means that Abraham Lincoln probably swore a fuck ton.
CARRIE: I think it goes in the other direction. I think it’s only if you swear, you’re honest, not if you’re honest then you swear. I could be wrong about that. I didn’t really read this study that carefully because that’s not my area of expertise.
MEGAN: All right. Don’t believe me on that.
CARRIE: I like it though! Let’s pretend it’s true.
MEGAN: What would swears have looked or sounded like back then? I was looking at the OED and looking at some dates and there would have been some “fucking”, back then, a little bit.
CARRIE: Oh yeah, “fuck”’s been a swear word for centuries. Many, many centuries.
CARRIE: Probably more religious-oriented swearing than now.
CARRIE: But I think some of the ones that we have now are still the same.
MEGAN: Yeah like the excrement stuff, like “shit” must have been.
CARRIE: Yes, I’m pretty sure yeah that’s an old one too. I mean “shit” and “fuck” are both very Germanic so that means they’re old.
REGGIE WATTS: [sings] You take some fuck, then some shit, then some fuck, then some shit, you got a fuck shit stack, a fuck shit stack, take some fuck, then some shit…
MEGAN: We can tell they’re Germanic. It’s a short word. A lot of words that we still have from Germanic are very short: home.
MEGAN: Wife yes, lord.
MEGAN: That was our Old English lesson for the podcast.
CARRIE: We wanted to make a note that sometimes swearing is very abusive. It’s not that we think that swearing is always good; it’s just that it’s not always bad. We will talk a little bit more about abusive swearing in a bit.
MEGAN: This might be a content warning for anyone that needs that.
CARRIE: And also, you can still be an abuser and say all the right things. Just because someone swears, does not mean they’re a bad person. We also talk about different kinds of swearing, so the ones that maybe are better versus worse. And also time and place. I always try to make this argument. Sometimes you shouldn’t say something, because it’s the wrong time or place. For example, maybe you don’t want to be swearing in your house of worship. But you probably already know that. That’s just the background to why we’re talking about swearing.
MEGAN: I am a scientist so I can’t say “always” or “everyone” but almost everyone swears.
CARRIE: One of the things – okay I didn’t double check to make sure that this number was correct but -according to the BBC, 90% of Brits swear on an average of 14 swears per day.
CARRIE: I have no idea what the numbers would be for the United States or any other country, but my guess is, at least in English-speaking countries, people swear a fair amount.
MEGAN: So the average is 14 and I am extraordinary. If I were British, I would be extraordinary.
CARRIE: I have to assume that the Australians swear the most. They might be even higher than that.
MEGAN: Right and their swears look different, right? I mean is “bloody” actually quite swear-ish in England, say?
CARRIE: I think it’s more sweary there than it is here. Here it sounds really silly, but I still don’t think it’s a super-strong swear. It’s not like “fuck”.
MEGAN: Oh, it’s not? Okay, when I was reading Harry Potter or watching the Harry Potter movies, when they say “bloody”, I always thought they were saying “fuck”. It was cute, because we were an American audience. I didn’t know. I guess it couldn’t be PG.
CARRIE: No, she wouldn’t use really harsh swears, I don’t think. For example, one of the swears that Brits used way more than North Americans do is “cunt” and they use it like really freely. And there it’s not nearly as strong as it is here right. What we’re sort of tiptoeing towards is the fact that swearing really tells you something about a culture. It tells you what’s taboo. Magnus Ljung wrote a whole book on swearing called “Swearing: a crosscultural linguistic study”. He noticed that – and this part is not new – swearing involves taboo words. That’s obvious. But there’s also something to be said about the literal meaning being not there. So if you say something like “the shit hit the fan”, you’re not saying anything about literal feces.
MEGAN: Wait, but what if you’re a monkey. That was my cute little joke that I thought was hilarious, because shit really does hit things when you’re a monkey.
CARRIE: That is true. I don’t know how often they throw shit at fans, but if they do, then yes. Then that would be literal. All idiomatic expressions, there are literal versions of them. So: “he kicked the bucket”; I guess you could be talking about a human male kicking a bucket. But normally it means “die”.
MEGAN: Yes, but the point is these are very idiomatic. Swears are very idiomatic, which means that they’re hard for second language learners too, or if you’re in another country.
CARRIE: Speaking of being in another country: there are some countries that will arrest you for swearing. So, don’t swear in all locations.
MEGAN: That’s what goes back to the time and context thing.
CARRIE: Ljung also pointed out that swearing is a type of formulaic language – and that is really true. Think about “he’s hungry as fuck”. That’s become this little formula that we add to the end of sentences now.
MEGAN: And “for fuck’s sake”. I was looking at the OED and “for fuck’s sake”, the first known occurrence was in 1943, which was earlier than I would have guessed. And apparently “fuck a duck”.
DONALD DUCK: Oh yeah, fuck you.
MEGAN: Another idiomatic expression, first in 1931, and the sentence was “tell her to go fuck a duck”.
CARRIE: Well that one’s so old I don’t even really think about that one. But that first one, “for fuck’s sake”, I don’t know why I wasn’t as surprised that it was that old.
CARRIE: “Flying fuck” is kind of old too. I can’t remember what the dates are. I want to say 19th century. And originally it meant “fuck on a horse”.
MEGAN: I didn’t know that. Like literally?
CARRIE: It just seems so difficult, so I can’t.
MEGAN: This one also surprised me. Maybe I’m just surprised by how profane our ancestors were, but “not to give a fuck”, the first occurrence was in 1879. And I really love the sentence: “for all your threats I don’t care a fuck/I’ll never leave my princely darling duck”. I don’t know if it was a poem.
CARRIE: Sounds like a poem. It sounds actually familiar to me but I can’t place it.
MEGAN: It says that it’s from Harlequin Prince Cherrytop? I don’t know.
CARRIE: Oh, okay.
MEGAN: Line 19. Anyway, they talked a lot about ducks back then.
MEGAN: So yes. “Fuck” has been around for a long time, and idiomatic ways to use it have been around for a long time too.
CARRIE: Although not nearly as long as the word “fuck” itself. That’s from at least the 14th century. “Fuck” is.
MEGAN: And it was a verb first.
CARRIE: Yeah. Originally it meant “to hit” or “to strike”. That’s interesting because now we use “I want to hit that” to mean “I want to have sex with that person”.
KEVIN HART: I hit that. Yes.
MAN: You hit that.
CARRIE: So we’re coming back full circle. Another thing that Ljung pointed out is that swearing really reveals the speaker’s attitudes and feelings. I think that’s really important. Especially if you’re talking about slurs, which we’re talking about a little bit in a minute, but it tells you more about the speaker than the person that you’re speaking to. I think that’s a good thing to remember about slurs. So: slurs. They are a type of swearing, but we’re not gonna focus too much on them. Obviously, some of them will come up, and we will talk about them, but we’re not gonna talk about all of them, and we’re not gonna talk about them in that much detail. Partially because even mentioning them in some cases is so painful to the targets – the people that are targeted by them – that I just don’t even want to go there. Also they’re very complicated, even more complicated than other swearing I think. If we were gonna talk about them, we would probably do a whole show on them. Again, slurs really do say more about the person uttering them than the person that they’re targeted it at, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not gonna be hurt by it, so we’re just gonna set them aside. I try to stay away from most of them, personally.
MEGAN: Me too. There’s four different ways in which swears come about. According to Benjamin Bergen, a cognitive scientist, there are four major contributors for swear words: 1. sacred concepts like-
MEGAN: Right. “Jesus Christ”, that’s blasphemous for some people to say. Growing up for me I got a side eye if I ever said “Jesus”. Maybe that’s why I like to say so much now. Especially combined with “fuck”. “Jesus fuckin Christ.” 2. Sex and sexual organs is another contributor for swear words. So, “cunt” and “dick” and all that. 3. Things that come out of your body: “mierda”, “shit”. What else comes out of your body?
CARRIE: “Piss”, I guess, some people call that.
MEGAN: Yeah, I guess, but that seems so weak right at this point.
CARRIE: Yeah, that’s not a swear word to me, but to some people I think it is.
MEGAN: Finally, 4. derogatory words for social groups. That’s gonna be where slurs come in. We have all those ways to create swears, and then we have this subgroup of slurs that we’re not gonna really talk about.
CARRIE: What I found really interesting about that list is that all those categories you can slot in English, but it used to be that English in the Middle Ages, body parts and excretions were not taboo. You could talk about these things very freely and in fact both “cunt” and fuck were used in place names. I’m gonna totally mangle this pronunciation but there was a place name called Bele Wydecunthe. Something like that. Like “wide cunt”. Literally the name of a city or a town or whatever. That was in 1328. There were also names with “fuck” in them. Like people’s names too. It was not a big deal. But now they’ve obviously become more of a big deal. In the past, it was more about religion, because fear of God, and people were more devout than they are now.
MEGAN: I feel like in Britain right now they are more comfortable with sexual organs and excretion – and all those words – than we are in the US, as I’ve seen from BBC shows. I think it’s this whole family values/religious thing in the United States that has made it kind of even more taboo to say certain words.
CARRIE: Well, it’s the puritanical thing. The Puritans left the UK and came here. I wanted to point out that – and I’m not the first person to point this out, many people have pointed this out before me – that really we should reclaim “cunt”. Because etymologically it’s way more feminist than “vagina”, because “vagina” is dependent on the penis for its definition. It literally means “sword sheath”. I think we should try to reclaim “cunt”. I know it’s hard, because in North America it can be used so viciously. I get it, but I’m gonna plant my flag here and say “let’s do it”.
MEGAN: I love the thought that “cunt” is etymologically feminist. That would make a really good bumper sticker. “Cunt” is one of those words where people are really taken aback when they hear it. That’s why it’s so hard. Because you’re kind of putting yourself out there when you use it.
CARRIE: People even have a hard time saying “vagina”, so…
MEGAN: What is it that Oprah used to say? “Vajayjay”? That was a thing.
OPRAH: My vajayjay is paining!
MEGAN: What Oprah says, goes. I remember thinking “vajayjay” was how to say “vagina” for a very long time. I was a big Oprah fan in my childhood. So yes. Let’s reclaim “cunt”.
CARRIE: Also it’s very culturally dependent, as we’ve already said. Even within English, what counts as a swear word in the UK is a little bit different than in North America. Same thing with French. In Quebecois French, but not European French, many of the swear words are derived from words for Catholicism, like “tabarnak”, which it’s just “tabernacle” or “Criss”, which is “Christ”. It’s very fun to hear Quebecois French being spoken.
MEGAN: That is so funny to me that those are swears. Catholics in the US aren’t offended by that right? You could say “tabernacle” and they’re not like, “oh my god”.
CARRIE: When would you ever say “tabernacle”, though.
MEGAN: I don’t know what kind of conversations Catholics are having. So that’s not fair for me to say. But okay fine.
CARRIE: It would be weird for an English speaker to be like “tabernacle!”, trying to swear. No one would understand it.
MEGAN: Do other Canadians know that this is offensive to the Quebecois?
CARRIE: As far as I know. Well, I’m a linguist so I don’t know. I think so. I think Canadians know, but yeah.
MEGAN: It’s another thing where again, like we’re saying, some swear words like could get you arrested in other places. But you can go to other places and not know that a word is a swear word to them.
CARRIE: Well, you’re unlikely in this instance to use that word out of the blue. If you were to use it you would be using it as like a description. I don’t even know what a tabernacle is, to be honest. I just know it’s part of a Catholic thing.
MEGAN: I don’t know what it is either, but I feel like you’re daring me to add this to my lexicon.
CARRIE: Find the Spanish version of it and try and turn that into a swear.
MEGAN: It might be already. I don’t know. A lot of them are Catholic.
CARRIE: Yes, I know.
MEGAN: I’ll have to look into that.
CARRIE: I was obsessed with swear words back when I was getting much younger. It’s fascinating, because it tells you something about another culture. So I asked one of my friends who’s Diné, which is the proper name for Navajo, how to swear in Diné Bizaad, which is Navajo, and she told me that bears are considered to be so powerful that if you invoke the name of the bear twice, then that is kind of like swearing. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s a taboo animal. So powerful. Women, I think we’re so taboo, that words referring to us become swear words, or at least just bad very easily.
MEGAN: I like the Spanish example of how “que madre” is a swear. Literally, that’s “what mother”, but “que padre”, “what father” is “how cool”. That’s like a really good one to look at side-by-side.
CARRIE: Or the difference between “cunt” and “dick”. Come on! “Dick” is so so- uh, soft.
MEGAN: So soft! [laughs]
CARRIE: “Dick” is so gentle in comparison.
MEGAN: That’s still funny. You know it really is, it’s kind of playful.
CARRIE: Yeah, it’s much more playful. You call someone a “dick”. Maybe you’re saying that they’re a bad person, but it still just doesn’t have the same harshness to it.
MEGAN: Like when we use the word “cunt” or “bitch”, if people were referring to men, or people that identify as men, it’s usually to insult them in some way, because women are seen as lesser.
MEGAN: There is also – the word “bitch”, I feel, is really complicated. So, when we use it for women, it’s often used for women that are actually quite competent, good at their jobs, etc. I feel like it’s a way to put them in their place kind of thing. We’re uncomfortable with women being so competent or getting the job done or whatever these things, these kind of characteristics that are normally reserved for men, that we see them as bitches.
CARRIE: I think there’s something about – well it’s definitely misogyny, but I think the misogyny comes from this place of men being afraid of women. Menstruation scares the shit out of them for example. So it’s very common for words of referring to women or women’s body parts to become negative in a way that usually men or men’s body parts don’t, or at least not as much. Even “hussy”, which is not really a swear word, it’s too gentle to be at least for me, I don’t consider it to be a swear word, it just meant “housewife”. How do you go from “housewife” to whatever “hussy” means.
MEGAN: It probably says a lot about what we think about women in the home, or just woman in general.
CARRIE: Just women in general, because you don’t think of a hussy as being in the home. Hussy is the side piece.
MEGAN: That’s true. It transforms somehow though through our history, from “housewife” to “hussy”. I was reading a book called “How emotions are made”. I thought that the 2016 election recently was a particularly high time for “bitch”, because it was used a lot to refer to Hillary Clinton. In this book it says, “whenever I see a savvy male politician play the angry “bitch” card against the female opponent I take it as an ironic sign that she must be really competent and powerful. I have yet to meet a successful woman who hasn’t paid her dues as a “bitch” before she was accepted as a leader”. That kind of sums up how I feel about people calling Hillary “bitch”, or saying that she was flawed as well, even though that’s not a swear, all these adjectives that were describing her ultimately come back to how uncomfortable we are with women.
CARRIE: I actually kind of half like the word “bitch” and half hate it. It’s fun in some instances. I like to call a group of people “bitches”. It’s fun!
RU PAUL All right girls!
DRAG RACERS: Good morning, bitches!
MEGAN: Yeah, it is. There’s some reclaiming happening.
CARRIE: But it’s only partial, and it still gets wielded it as a weapon.
MEGAN: It’s true. There are definitely a lot of women that are still uncomfortable with “bitch”. It’s one of those things where I want to like it, but I also don’t want to make people uncomfortable.
CARRIE: I do think women using the word can be better, although there are definitely women who used it in a very sexist way, because just like with our last episode, women are part of the problem too.
MEGAN: Ooh, some new words that are becoming swears in English.
CARRIE: My favorite new one – even though it’s horrible – is “cuck”. Every time I see it – because they almost never hear it, you almost only just see it written – every time I see it written, I just laugh, because I’m like, “why does this person think this is really an effective slur?”
MEGAN: We’re seeing it in the neo-nazi community.
CARRIE: The neo-nazi, the so-called alt-right, the dirtbag right.
MEGAN: They also love the word “snowflake”, which is hilarious to me.
CARRIE: Because anyone who seems to use that word themselves seems to be very sensitive.
MEGAN: There’s some projection going on, for sure.
CARRIE: I think that’s also what’s going on with “cuck”. The only reason why you’re gonna call someone that is because a) you know that there’s this section of porn that involves cuckolding, which I mean why do you know this or why do you care, it’s just somebody’s fetish, why is that even a thing that crosses your mind that you’re like, “haha!”
MEGAN: I know. I didn’t think about it that way, but you leave people’s fetishes alone! Just leave that alone.
CARRIE: I think there’s also a racial component to cuck that they are trying to key into, but again it says more about you, if you’re using it. You’ve got some weird obsession.
MEGAN: And then “SJW”. I don’t spend a lot of time engaging with any sort of neo-nazi web presences.
CARRIE: You don’t have to! They’re everywhere.
MEGAN: Yeah, but I didn’t know – I had to google “SJW” when I first saw it. Thankfully urban dictionary is a thing, and it’s very helpful. “SJW” is social justice warrior. “SJW” is something that – you let yourself be known that you’re kind of an asshole when you use “SJW”, in my eyes.
CARRIE: Yeah, it means that you think social justice is not worthwhile, so therefore why do I care what your opinion is?
MEGAN: Right, exactly.
CARRIE: Okay, so why do we swear? Why is it fun?
MEGAN: I feel like we swear because it is fun. So that’s one of the reasons. This isn’t science for me, but it’s fun because people some people just really don’t like it when you do it.
CARRIE: That’s true! So pissing off certain groups of people. One reason that people swear is to signal in-group status. Around like-minded people, or within a group, you’re more likely to swear, because you’re all pals.
MEGAN: Time and context, as well. I swear much more when I’m with my friends. My parents don’t love it. I try not to swear in front of them, because I am a conscientious daughter. But some people use it to be abusive.
MEGAN: Especially with slurs, but it can be some of the words that we think are more fun, like “fuck” can also be used abusively.
CARRIE: Yeah, if you’re yelling at somebody, that’s obviously gonna be more abusive. It also can show that you’re really good friends with somebody, like, “hey, you old bastard!! How are you doing?” Not that I would say that particular…
MEGAN: Have you ever done that?
CARRIE: No, not that. But I know people have.
MEGAN: This is where I imagine Abraham Lincoln, like this is what he would say.
CARRIE: I literally cannot imagine being in that time, so I don’t know. It also can help us let off steam. If you’re really angry, sometimes it’s good to not swear AT anybody, but just swear. Or if you stub your toe, supposedly, it relieves the pain.
MEGAN: There was a 2009 study that people cite when they talk about this. It took the world by storm. Because there are some scientific studies that are really sexy, and this was one of them. I read it, because I always like to read sexy science. One of the findings was that people that swear more daily didn’t get the effect as much. The authors tied this to gender. They said that men seem to swear more daily, so they didn’t have as much of an effect as women did. I think, of course, this goes back to sexism, because, again, we seem to be more okay with men swearing. The study also tied swearing to aggression, which I don’t think is completely fair. Especially since aggression is culturally defined, but a lot of times psychologists think of it as more universal, even though it’s not. Aggression looks different in different cultures. Their study was linking aggression with swearing, and people associate both swearing and aggression with men, but it being okay with men. For women to be aggressive is not okay. There might be something there, where we don’t like when women swear, because we think of it more as aggressive, possibly.
CARRIE: I do think that there is such a thing as aggressive swearing.
MEGAN: Right of course.
CARRIE: And it may be the case that maybe men swear that way more than women do? I don’t know. Again, like you say, that’s probably culturally specific. It’s absolutely true that women -it’s less good for us to swear than it is for men to swear, because culturally.
MEGAN: It’s important to note that this is so much worse for black women and women of color.
CARRIE: Yeah, of course.
MEGAN: They’re viewed so much worse if they’re seen as aggressive.
CARRIE: Black women are often accused of being aggressive way more often than say white women are, that’s absolutely true.
CARRIE: So, it’s harder for them to get away with swearing. Again, we should push back on that. It should be – everybody should be allowed to swear, at least time and place. It should be the same no matter who you are.
MEGAN: When we see and when we think about things like this we see the anti-blackness of it, or the anti-person of color of it. You see how ridiculous it is to judge people for their swearing, and you can see how culturally defined it is.
CARRIE: We also use swearing just to emphasize, like, “oh that’s fucking stupid” is more emphatic than just, “that’s stupid”, or whatever.
MEGAN: Or “that’s fucking awesome”.
CARRIE: That’s right.
MEGAN: It doesn’t always have to be negative, when you’re emphasizing something.
CARRIE: The other thing that swearing might be correlated with is honesty. We talked about this before, but there’s one study that shows – and you should always take any one study with a grain of salt, so if it gets replicated, then okay – but the study says that if you swear, then you’re more honest. David Stillwell says, “swearing is often inappropriate but it can also be evidence that someone is telling you their honest opinion”. What he’s basically saying is if you’re not filtering your language, then maybe you’re also not filtering your views. So you’re getting a better snapshot of that person’s internal mind. And even if this is not ends up not being true, that feels true. It just feels like, “oh yeah, that makes sense”. You should always be skeptical of anything that’s like, “oh that makes sense”.
MEGAN: Some articles say that it might be correlated with intelligence. This also speaks to what swearing doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean you have a shitty vocabulary.
CARRIE: No, not at all.
MEGAN: There’s a study that found that swearing was positively correlated with measures of verbal fluency. So again, take everything with a grain of salt, but in this study people that swore more, they had a very nuanced speech. They’re very fluent in their speech. There was no poverty of vocabulary. Folks were fine.
CARRIE: I do wonder if it means that – like how you use the swears. Because if you’re just saying “fuck shit”, like that’s it, that’s your entire utterance, that doesn’t seem like any evidence one way or the other of anything. But if you’re using these more elaborate swearing techniques, that means you have to have a very good vocabulary.
MEGAN: Ooh, elaborate swearing. Does that mean that I am really fluent, because I like to compound my swears – so “motherfuckin Jesus Christ”. I like to combine everything, so I’m sure that speaks to my intelligence. So, it might be correlated with intelligence. It definitely for a fact does not mean that you have a shitty vocabulary.
CARRIE: Right. And it might – again time and place – might be good for your career, because if you swear in front of the right person at the right time, they might be like, “oh, you’re not that snob that I thought you were”. Or, “you’re not uptight”. Now again, certain people, certain places, you’re not gonna be able to get away with it. And so I’m not saying, “swear and you’ll get a better job!” No. But if you can tell that you would do better in the job if you swore, then by all means pull it out.
MEGAN: It also might show that you’re passionate about something. So maybe something good at work happens or whatever.
CARRIE: That’s true. It can either be a, “hey, we’re all in the shitty experience together” or a, “oh wow, we’re in this awesome experience together”. So yeah, you’re right.
MEGAN: Yeah exactly. You come out of a bad meeting and then you turn to your boss and say, “well that was shit”. There’s something. I don’t know. Maybe that that’s what it is. But I would still be careful as a woman or as any sort of marginalized group, because these things don’t work as well for us always.
CARRIE: Yes, so be careful.
MEGAN: Also swearing can be used to reclaim language. We talked a little bit about “bitch”; some people are reclaiming that. “Cunt”: Carrie says we should reclaim that. I like that. What else? “Slut.” I think “slut” is being reclaimed or has been reclaimed by a lot of people.
CARRIE: Some people have tried to reclaim it; some people really strongly reject reclaiming it. I’m kind of on the fence about that one, because I just kind of think it shouldn’t even come up. I don’t care who you’re having sex with or how many people you are having sex with. I just don’t care. Oh yeah, Yankee used to be a slur against Americans. “Yankee Doodle” is not a good song. You’re being mocked, Americans.
MEGAN: Yankee Doodle Dandy, isn’t “dandy” –
CARRIE: Like a fancy – like a man who dresses fancily. Something to do with macaroni style – you know, I’d have to look it up. The Brits were mocking Americans for the way they were dressing.
MEGAN: Another thing that we should just lay off. Let people dress they way they want to dress.
CARRIE: Yes, if someone wants to wear a bikini, let them wear it. just go on with your life.
MEGAN: And anyone can wear a dress that wants to wear a dress. Like, come on. Those are some of the reasons why we do swear or why we use swearing. But what swearing doesn’t necessarily mean is that you have X trait. I was reading a study that said that wearing is negatively correlated with ranking high on agreeableness and conscientiousness, which is part of the Big Five inventory of quote unquote universal traits that humans have. I am agreeable as fuck, but I cuss all the time. I just want to put out that this goes back to time and place, because I am i- n conscientiousness as well – I am aware of my surroundings and when I should cuss and when I shouldn’t. I think that these kind of studies are – the blanket claims that you might be more kind or aware of your surroundings if you don’t cuss is too much of a blanket claim.
CARRIE: I’d have to look at it, but my guess is that it’s a very small effect. So even if it’s true, it’s probably a very small effect. Of course you’re gonna have counterexamples, regardless. You as a data point doesn’t take this down.
MEGAN: Oh, it doesn’t.
CARRIE: However, I agree with you in general that it’s probably not that great. Even if it’s true, it’s a tiny amount. So just because you swear, doesn’t mean that you’re not agreeable or not conscientious.
MEGAN: I’d be careful with those kind – it also said that swearing is positively correlated with extraversion.
CARRIE: That seems yet completely wrong.
MEGAN: I know.
CARRIE: But I don’t know.
MEGAN: I think the point here is be careful with anyone or any study that claims that you’re a certain type of person or have a certain type of personality if you swear.
CARRIE: Or anything. Those personality studies are a little suspect.
MEGAN: They are. Again, it’s usually by Western scientists who define these things.
CARRIE: And they’re only studying WEIRD people. Western, educated. What’s the I?
MEGAN: And they do the studies on college students. There are so many people that are left out of higher education for so many reasons, and the ones that get there could be there for certain reason. It’s just not a random sampling.
CARRIE: No, it’s not.
MEGAN: That is not random sample.
CARRIE: It’s usudally just on college students, which – college students are not even fully grown.
MEGAN: They’re not fully actualized human beings yet.
CARRIE: Our brains don’t finish growing until around 25. We definitely should not be basing all of psychology on that – I’m not saying all of psychology is based on 20 year olds, but a lot of it is.
MEGAN: Psychologists, the comment section is below.
CARRIE: Psychology is going through a shift, so. So now let’s just talk about her favourite swearword. Mine is “fuck”, because it is so versatile. You can say it in any which way. A noun, a verb, an adjective – can you say it as an adjective? Yes
MEGAN: Yeah! Of course you can!
CARRIE: An adverb. You can say it in so many different ways, so I just really love it. In fact, there’s this whole scene in “The Wire” where McNulty and Moreland only utter some version of “fuck”. “Fuck”, “motherfuck”, “motherfucking”, “fucking a” and “fuck me”. Maybe I missed one. We’ll put this up on the tumblr, because I think it’s an interesting video to watch. That’s all they say for 4 and a half minutes. It’s amazing. It’s glorious.
MEGAN: Listening to you say that, I can imagine how much is expressed through that, even though they’re just using the word “fuck”.
CARRIE: They’re exploring a crime scene and they’re trying to figure out how this woman was murdered. They’re trying to figure out where the bullet casing was. They’re exploring this scene and they’re just saying “fuck”. It’s amazing. Anyway. I love it.
MEGAN: My favorite swear word is also “fuck”. It’s because it’s just so recursive. I can just keep going with it.
CARRIE: It’s true.
MEGAN: I like to compound it with everything, like I said. There’s maybe some semantic bleaching for me or something, because it doesn’t feel like a swear word as much anymore, depending on who I’m around.
CARRIE: It definitely feels like gentler than it did when I was a kid. I don’t know if their has been some bleaching going on, or if we just hear it more now. My guess is yes, we do hear it a lot more. We use “as fuck” all the time on the internet. Maybe it has become less of a swearword.
CARRIE: I just want to say: if you’re gonna swear, just swear. Don’t use asterisks. It really bugs me, because you’re putting it into our mind anyway. We can see that you’re swearing, but putting those little asterisks doesn’t change anything.
MEGAN: No, it’s not gonna help children. Children that can read are gonna see it and know exactly what you mean.
CARRIE: Yeah, so if you don’t wanna swear, just don’t swear. That’s a valid life choice to make. But this intermediate thing – I don’t know why it bugs me so much. Okay well, unless you have anything else you want to add.
MEGAN: No, I’m just “fucking a”, man.
CARRIE: So, “asshole”, it turns out, is not gentle enough to make it on to the iTunes directory.
MEGAN: Wait, didn’t we use asterisks.
CARRIE: No, we didn’t, but even if we had, it would have probably gotten rejected – apparently. So, we had to change “asshole” to “jerk”. You’ll see in our description that we use “jerk”, but that’s not what was originally intended. We were originally calling people “assholes” who were discriminating on the basis of language.
MEGAN: And then iTunes discriminated against us. “These fuckers don’t deserve to have their own podcast channel.”
CARRIE: It’s my fault for not making sure that that was okay. Again: time and place. I get it. Maybe you shouldn’t have it in the description, so mea culpa.
MEGAN: Which means that you might have to resubscribe.
CARRIE: Yes, if you subscribed from the first episode, you may have to resubscribe.
MEGAN: Hopefully you’re hearing this. You might not even be doing this. Hopefully we will find you again. One of our many mistakes that we will surely make.
CARRIE: We will make more for sure. I hope you enjoyed this episode. What is our next episode gonna be on, Megan?
MEGAN: Our next episode is going to be on Southern English, which was a request, but also very, very important. A lot of things to say about that. I don’t know how we’re gonna do in 30 minutes.
CARRIE: We’ll figure something out.
MEGAN: Much love to southern English and we’ll be talking about that.
CARRIE: Thanks again and don’t be an asshole.
MEGAN: Don’t be a fuckin’ asshole.
CARRIE: The Vocal Fries Podcast is produced by Chris Ayers for Halftone Audio. Music by Nick Granum. You can find us on tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @vocalfriespod. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.