Pharos-Tribune

Community News Network

June 24, 2014

The Internet has changed how we curse

In using an expletive last week to tell a rally of hockey fans, "This is a big f_kin' day," did Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti cross a line?

There's real data to help us answer that question. Relatively recent technologies — cable television, satellite radio, and social media — provide us with a not-too-unrealistic picture of how often people swear in public and what they say when they do. Before these new forms of reporting, the media provided a fairly sanitized view of spoken English. Newspapers today still report swearing euphemistically, as in "n word," "f bomb," or "an eight-letter word for animal excrement."

Fortunately, YouTube now offers a more accurate picture. Are widely reported acts of swearing by public figures like Garcetti's typical? And are the rest of us any different — how frequently do regular people swear and what do we say?

In one study reported in the journal Science, less than one percent of the words used by participants (who were outfitted with voice recorders over a period of time) were swear words. That doesn't sound like very much, but if a person says 15,000 words per day, that's about 80 to 90 f_ks and s_ts during that time. (Of course, there's variability — some people don't say any swear words and some say hundreds more). More recently, my research team reported in The American Journal of Psychology, that f_k and s_t appeared consistently in the vocabularies of children between 1 to 12 years of age.

Politicians get caught swearing all the time. In 2000, George W. Bush referred to a New York Times reporter as a "major league a_hole." In 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney told Vermont Senator Pat Leahy to go f_k himself on the floor of the U.S. Senate. In 2010, Vice President Joe Biden called the passage of President Obama's health care legislation "a big f_king deal." I put Mayor Garcetti's profane celebration of the Kings' Stanley Cup in the Biden category..

What happens when the viewer at home encounters these expletive-laced speeches on their TVs or the Internet? Some viewers take it personally, calling these guys degraders of morals and classless because they're only thinking of the historically sexual meaning of the word f_. Garcetti, though (along with Bono at the Golden Globes), used f__ as an intensifier, not as a sexual obscenity. Most swear words are used connotatively (to convey emotion), not for their literal meaning.

The Federal Communications Commission waffles back and forth about what to do about Garcetti- and Trudeau-type "fleeting expletives." Fox Sports apologized for Garcetti's "inappropriate" speech, but it's not clear if Fox will be fined by the FCC. The FCC ruled less liberally during the Bush years when conservatives had more sway. It's interesting that people don't complain as much about alcohol ads in professional sports. Alcohol can kill you, but swearing won't; swearing might even help you cope with life's stressors, according to recent research.

Older generations who are less understanding of technology may see more profanity and perceive that there is a change in language or societal habits, even when that is not the case. Swearing by people in positions of power swearing has always been there; it just used to be better hidden. We have to learn to accept that we are now going to hear more Garcettis.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Community News Network
  • The Simpsons still going strong

    The groundbreaking animation first hit the air Dec. 17, 1989, but the family first appeared on television in "The Tracey Ullman Show" short "Good Night" on April 19, 1987.

    August 21, 2014

  • Police chief resigns over racial slur repost to Facebook

    A repost on his personal Facebook page of a racially-charged comment by the original poster of a comedy video has forced the police chief of an Oklahoma city to resign his office.

    August 21, 2014

  • Does Twitter need a censor?

    Twitter decided last year to make images more prominent on its site. Now, the social network is finding itself caught between being an open forum and patrolling for inappropriate content.

    August 21, 2014

  • sleepchart.jpg America’s sleep-deprived cities

    Americans might run on sleep, but those living in the country's largest cities don't appear to run on much.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Who should pay for your kids ACT?

    Thirteen states paid for 11th-grade students in all public high schools to take the ACT college admission test this year, with several more planning to join them in 2015.

    August 20, 2014

  • Pets.jpg Why do people look like their pets?

    As much as we might quibble over the virtues and vices of Canis domesticus, however, and over whether human nature is any better or worse than dog nature, even dog fanciers don't usually want to look like a dog.

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ice bucket challenge trending up

    Internet trends are a dime a dozen these days. Everything from Tebowing to planking to the cinnamon challenge can cause a wave of social media activity that can last for weeks before fizzling out.

    August 19, 2014

  • Africa goes medieval in its fight against Ebola

    As the Ebola epidemic claims new victims at an ever-increasing rate, African governments in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia have instituted a "cordon sanitaire," deploying troops to forcibly isolate the inhabitants in an area containing most of the cases.

    August 18, 2014

  • Democrat? Republican? There's an app for that

    If you're a Republican, you might want to think twice before buying Lipton Iced Tea, and forget about Starbucks coffee. If you're a Democrat, put down that Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, and throw away the cylinder of Quaker Oats in your pantry.

    August 18, 2014

  • Five myths about presidential vacations

    In the nuclear age, presidents may have only minutes to make a decision that could affect the entire world. They don't so much leave the White House as they take a miniature version of it with them wherever they go.

    August 15, 2014

Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
Poll

Does Indiana need a statewide water management plan and an administrator to implement it?

Yes
No
Unsure
     View Results
Featured Ads
AP Video
Hospital Releases Two Missionaries Who Had Ebola Ramen Health Risks: The Dark Side of the Noodle NYC Doctor-in-chief Seeks Community Approach Indonesian Police Fire Tear Gas at Protesters Raw: Shots Fired in Liberian Shantytown DOJ, Bank of America Reach Record Settlement Raw: Cubavision Airs Images of Fidel Castro Raw: Grief After Deadly Airstrikes in Gaza Officer Who Pointed Gun at Protesters Suspended Kathy Griffin Challenges Minaj to 'a Booty Off' Johnson: Six Arrests, No Tear Gas in Ferguson Raw: Rescue, Relief Efforts at Japan Landslide Cadavers, a Teen, and a Medical School Dream California Drought Stings Honeybees, Beekeepers Officer Who Pointed Gun at Protesters Suspended US Mission to Rescue Hostages in Syria Failed
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.