Archives for posts with tag: demographics

ResearchBlogging.orgThe differences between male and female use of bad language vary according to age, class, and location. In very rare cases, women swear more than men, but in almost all settings, women swear more than men think they do!

A study of Myspace profiles (Thelwall 2008) showed that UK females were as likely as their male counterparts to use strong or very strong swearing whereas profiles from US users showed marked differences between male and female profiles. Of the 9,373 profiles studied 38% of UK female profiles used strong swearing vs. 33% of UK males, but UK males outstripped UK females in their use of very strong swearing (8% to 3% respectively).

I can’t help feeling a slight twinge of patriotic pride that both UK males and females use far more very strong swearing than their US counterparts (only 2% of male and female profiles US profiles contain the strongest set of swearwords). Gender differences are pronounced in the US for strong swearing, with 47% of US males using strong swearwords in their profiles, but only 38% of US females doing likewise. US females are more likely than their male counterparts to use language specifically aimed at denigrating other women, though: they’re more likely to be the ones using “slut”, “whore” and the oddly British sounding “tart”.

Thelwall, M. (2008). Fk yea I swear: cursing and gender in MySpace Corpora, 3 (1), 83-107 DOI: 10.3366/E1749503208000087

The British are famously obsessed with class: the words that we have for members of different social classes (“toff”, “chav”) are often thrown around as insults in their own right.  But it seems that the top and bottom ends of the British class hierarchy many have more in common than you might expect when it comes to bad language.

The British National Corpus contains 100,000,000 instances of spoken and written British English collected between 1960 and 1992. McEnery and Xiao (2004) analysed this corpus in painstaking detail to discover who uses “fuck” and its variants.

They found that for “fucked” and “fucks”, most of the instances came from social class AB, the 27% of the population that are classed as upper and middle management or professional. The AB class also came second in the use of the plain form, “fuck”, and placed a credible third in the use of “fucking” and “fuckers”. The 23% of the population classed as DE – the unemployed through to semi-skilled manual workers – took the podium for most common used of “fuck”, “fucking”, and “fuckers”.

It’s theC1s, the lower middle class, who most strongly preserve the norms of good language. C1’s are the Hyacinth Buckets of the British class system and they have a reputation of being the class most concerned with social appearances. The C1s always come in last of all the social classes in all forms of he word, and the only form that makes any kind of showing at all from the C1s is “fucking” – though whether as an expletive or the literal use, the record doesn’t show!

Interestingly enough, the ABs are lifelong swearers and, of the 210 recorded instances of the use of the word “fuck” and its derivatives by children younger than 14, 209 are from the upper two social tiers. In the 60 and above age group, all seven instances of the word came from the ABs.

The lesson would seem to be that, if you want to ape your betters, a liberal smattering of the f-word isn’t out of place.

McEnery, A., Xiao, Z (2004). Swearing in Modern British English: The Case of Fuck in the BNC Language and Literature, 13 (3), 235-268 DOI: 10.1177/0963947004044873