From a recent study on swearing:
Both formats produced positive correlations between COWAT fluency, animal fluency, and taboo word fluency, supporting the fluency-is-fluency hypothesis. In each study, a set of 10 taboo words accounted for 55–60% of all taboo word data.
What this means is that people who cuss a lot are smarter than the rest of you. So there. Wonkblog’s Ana Swanson, who apparently has access to the full paper, explains further:
In order to use bad words appropriately, people still have to understand nuanced distinctions about language, the paper says. As such, cursing isn’t a sign of a limited vocabulary at all. Past research has shown that when people are really at a loss for words, they tend to say things like “er” or “um,” rather than cursing. Other studies have shown that college students are more likely to use curse words, and that this group tends to have a larger vocabulary than the population in general.
“A voluminous taboo lexicon may better be considered an indicator of healthy verbal abilities rather than a cover for their deficiencies,” the researchers write.
Quite so. And on that score, the study’s findings should give us all pause. Take a look at the chart on the right, which shows the number of words people could dredge up in three different categories. Apparently the average American can come up with only 11 curse words. Eleven! That’s pathetic. I have dreams where I use more curse words than that. Of course, there’s much I don’t know about the methodology of this study. How much time did people have to come up with words? How unique did words have to be? Are fuck and fuckwit separate words, or merely different members of the vast fuck family? It would cost me $35.95 to find out, and you can guess how likely I am to spend my Christmas money on that.
UPDATE: Participants got two minutes to write down all the curse words they could think of. So…that’s an average of about five curse words per minute.