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The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television: Increases in the Use of Swear Words in American Books, 1950-2008


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Evidence is accumulating that American culture has become more individualistic since the 1950s. In the present research, we focused on one plausible manifestation of individualism, the use of swear words in cultural products. We examined trends in the use of the seven words identified by George Carlin in 1972 as the “seven words you can never say on television” in the Google Books corpus of American English books from 1950 to 2008. We find a steady linear increase in the use of swear words, with books published in 2005-2008 twenty-eight times more likely to include swear words than books published in the early 1950s. Increases for individual swear words ranged from 4 to 678 times (ds = 6.58-45.42). These results suggest that American culture has become increasingly accepting of the expression of taboo words, consistent with higher cultural individualism.
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DOI: 10.1177/2158244017723689
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How do cultures change over time? A burgeoning area of
research explores trends in the characteristics of individu-
als, such as in their living arrangements, baby name choices,
and self-views (Grossmann & Varnum, 2015; Twenge,
Campbell, & Gentile, 2012a; Twenge, Dawson, &
Campbell, 2016), concluding that American culture has
increased in individualism, a cultural system that favors the
self over social rules (Triandis, 1995). Another way to
examine cultural change is through trends in cultural prod-
ucts—media such as books, movies, songs, and advertise-
ments (Lamoreaux & Morling, 2012; Morling & Lamoreaux,
2008). Several studies of cultural products such as language
use in books have found increases in individualism, includ-
ing increases in the use of individualistic words and
decreases in collectivistic words (Greenfield, 2013),
declines in words referring to moral character (Kesebir &
Kesebir, 2012), and increases in first-person singular and
second-person pronouns (Twenge, Campbell, & Gentile,
2013). Another study found increases in individualistic lan-
guage in the lyrics of popular songs (DeWall, Pond,
Campbell, & Twenge, 2011).
In this article, we explore changes in another aspect of
language that may be connected to individualism: The use
of swear words. The frequency of swearing over time has
been a topic of some interest in popular culture. For exam-
ple, many suggest we now occupy a cruder culture where
bad language is more common (Gillespie, 2013). “One of
the things that upsets me about modern society is the
coarseness of manners,” the late Supreme Court Justice
Antonin Scalia said in 2013. “You can’t go to a movie—or
watch a television show for that matter—without hearing
the constant use of the F-word” (Senior, 2013). Others
have been more sanguine about the free expression of
swear words, seeing them as a marker of freedom.
Comedian George Carlin (1937-2008) mocked the censor-
ship of profanity in his well-known 1972 routine “Seven
words you can never say on television.” As Carlin’s brother
Patrick later commented about the routine, “It was a free-
ing experience for millions and millions of people who
were young at that time. It took that restriction off people’s
shoulders and brought them down to a common level”
(Bella, 2012). These are opposing views on swearing, but
both point to the importance of individual freedom over
traditional social norms, a common conceptualization of
723689SGOXXX10.1177/2158244017723689SAGE OpenTwenge et al.
1San Diego State University, CA, USA
2University of Georgia, Athens, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jean M. Twenge, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San
Diego, CA 92182-4611, USA.
The Seven Words You Can Never Say on
Television: Increases in the Use of Swear
Words in American Books, 1950-2008
Jean M. Twenge1, Hannah VanLandingham1,
and W. Keith Campbell2
Evidence is accumulating that American culture has become more individualistic since the 1950s. In the present research, we
focused on one plausible manifestation of individualism, the use of swear words in cultural products. We examined trends in
the use of the seven words identified by George Carlin in 1972 as the “seven words you can never say on television” in the
Google Books corpus of American English books from 1950 to 2008. We find a steady linear increase in the use of swear
words, with books published in 2005-2008 twenty-eight times more likely to include swear words than books published in
the early 1950s. Increases for individual swear words ranged from 4 to 678 times (ds = 6.58-45.42). These results suggest
that American culture has become increasingly accepting of the expression of taboo words, consistent with higher cultural
cultural change, individualism, swear words, taboo words
2 SAGE Open
Despite the interest in trends in swearing, direct empirical
evidence for the increasing use of swear words is lacking. In
fact, studies of spoken frequencies of swear words suggest
few changes in their use between the late 1970s and mid-
2000s (Jay, 2009). It is unclear if cultural products actually
do feature more taboo words, possibly indicating that
American culture has become more accepting of crude lan-
guage. In this article, we examine changes in the use of swear
words since 1950 in written language, using the large Google
Books database of 5 million books (Michel, Kui, Presser,
et al., 2010).
Studying changes in language use in books is important
because cultural products such as books are a useful place
to observe and quantify cultural change. As Lamoreaux
and Morling (2012) argued, it is important to study cultural
products for at least three reasons. First, culture includes
the context as well as the person, and cultural products
capture culture “outside the head.” Second, cultural prod-
ucts are not subject to the biases of that plague self-report
measures, such as reference group and social desirability
effects. Third, and perhaps most important, cultural prod-
ucts shape individuals’ ideas of cultural norms and “com-
mon sense.” People’s behavior is often influenced by their
beliefs about what others in their culture believe and do,
even if these assumptions are erroneous (e.g., Zou et al.,
2009). Cultural products are likely one of the most com-
mon sources for perceptions of cultural norms. Thus, if
swear words are used more often in books, it might indi-
cate an increasing acceptance of these words in the
Cultural Shifts Relevant for Changes in
the Use of Swear Words
Why might the use of swear words increase in American
books? As noted above, individualism is a cultural system
that favors the self more highly than the collective, and a
growing body of research suggests that American culture
has become increasingly individualistic (Grossmann &
Varnum, 2015; Twenge, 2014). One key factor may be self-
expression. Swear words allow the free expression of emo-
tion, especially anger (Jay, 2009). Due to the greater
valuation of the rights of the individual self, individualistic
cultures favor more self-expression in general (Kim &
Sherman, 2007) and allow more expression of personal
anger in particular (Safdar et al., 2009). Thus, a more indi-
vidualistic culture should be one with a higher frequency of
swear word use.
In addition, swear words are also known as taboo words,
as they are “sanctioned or restricted on both institutional
and individual levels” (Jay, 2009, p. 153). Taboos, usually
defined as social rules or inhibitions, are less prominent in
individualistic cultures, which usually name fewer behav-
iors as social taboos (Triandis, 1995). Consistent with a
rise in individualism, other behaviors once considered
taboos have faded in American culture. For example, social
taboos against premarital and homosexual sex have
decreased since the 1990s (Twenge, Sherman, & Wells,
2015, 2016). Other traditional social rules, such as those
stigmatizing working mothers and atheists, have also
become less prominent (Donnelly et al., 2016; Twenge,
Carter, & Campbell, 2015). However, little research has
explored the loosening of social taboos in cultural prod-
ucts. The study on song lyrics (DeWall et al., 2011) exam-
ined antisocial words including swear words but was
limited to only 10 songs per year and did not examine
swear words separately from antisocial words such as
“kill” and “hate.”
Research suggests that swearing is linked to personality
traits such as extraversion, dominance, narcissism, and neu-
roticism (Fast & Funder, 2008; Holtzman, Vazire, & Mehl,
2010; Schwartz et al., 2013). A recent study found that
swearing was associated with high extraversion and low
agreeableness (Kennison & Messer, 2017), a personality
profile empirically linked to high individualism via an asso-
ciation with grandiose narcissism (e.g., Miller et al., 2011;
Paulhus, 2001). This profile is also linked to individualism
conceptually, as high extraversion, especially boldness and
assertiveness, and low agreeableness, especially low mod-
esty and high grandiosity, are connected to an individualistic
drive to stand outside and above the group (Triandis & Suh,
2002). Several studies also link narcissism directly to self-
reported individualism across cultures (Cai, Kwan, &
Sedikides, 2012; Konrath, Bushman, & Grove, 2009;
Meisel, Ning, Campbell, & Goodie, 2016). Average levels
of extraversion and dominance (Terracciano, 2010; Twenge,
2001), narcissism (Twenge & Foster, 2010), and neuroti-
cism (Twenge, 2015) have all increased among individuals
in the United States. Thus, the frequency of swearing may
increase as well.
The Present Study and Hypotheses
The Google Books Ngram viewer allows the examination
of language use in 5 million books (Michel et al., 2011).
The Ngram database reports usage frequency by dividing
the number of instances of the word in a given year by the
total number of words in the corpus in that year, thus cor-
recting for changes in the number of published works and
their length. To avoid confounds between year and coun-
try of publication, we drew from a corpus restricted to
books published in one country (the United States, the
American English corpus). Books are also an ideal cul-
tural product in which to examine language use, as they
have stayed relatively unchanged as a medium, in contrast
to the significant changes in broadcast media, with the
movement from three main networks to cable to streaming
Twenge et al. 3
In such research, a key question is which words to
examine. Two issues are of particular importance: (a) a
list of words that is somewhat objective, and (b) a list
without a strong present fashion bias (i.e., words that have
become fashionable or popular in recent years). This latter
issue is problematic because any increase seen in the data
might simply reflect fashion trends rather than broader
psychological changes. We attempted to address these
issues by analyzing a list of swear words chosen by some-
one else (to provide some objectivity vis-à-vis the investi-
gators) and chosen in a previous historical period (to
avoid present fashion bias). To that end, we used the
“seven words you can never say on television” popular-
ized by comedian George Carlin in 1972 (shit, piss, fuck,
cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits; Bella, 2012).
This is a short yet reasonably comprehensive list of swear
words considered taboo in polite society. It differs some-
what from other lists of commonly used taboo words such
as that of Jay (2009) as it focuses on swear words rather
than simply taboo words (Jay’s list is fuck, shit, hell,
damn, goddamn, Jesus Christ, ass, oh my god, bitch, and
sucks). Some of the taboo words on Jay’s list (Jesus
Christ, hell) would be problematic to examine in fre-
quency databases as indicators of cultural change as they
are also used in other contexts where they are not taboo.
Nevertheless, the two words that appear on both lists (fuck
and shit) account for up to half of the uses of taboo words
(Jay, 2009). Three of the words on Carlin’s list (cock-
sucker, cunt, and fuck) are the same as the three identified
by college students as the most taboo (Jay & Janschewitz,
2008). Carlin’s list thus identifies the most taboo words,
making it a conservative test of the hypothesis that the use
of taboo words has increased.
We began examining swear words in 1950, a common
starting point for the postwar era. Michel et al. (2011)
noted that the Google Books database is more reliable after
1900, and most research examining changes in social rules
begins with data in the 1970s or later (e.g., Baunach, 2012;
Donnelly et al., 2016; Twenge, Campbell, & Carter, 2015).
Thus, examining data after 1950 covers the decades in
which social rules began to change, plus an extra two
decades (1950-1970) in case swear words changed earlier
than other indicators. Given previous research and cultural
studies pointing toward the relaxation of social taboos in
American society, we hypothesize that the use of swear
words will increase in American books between 1950 and
We examined the American English (2009)1 corpus from
the Google Books Ngram database. The Google Books cor-
pus contains 4% of books published since the 1800s. These
books were likely not truly randomly selected (Michel
et al., 2011); however, we assume these books were not
selected in a way dependent on word use frequency that
also varied systematically with year. In addition, the Ngram
database is by far the largest database available of digitized
books. As described in more detail in Michel et al. (2011),
Google used 100 sources such as university libraries and
publishers to generate a comprehensive catalog of books.
The books were digitally scanned and the corpus was win-
nowed of serial publications, multiple editions, and books
with poor print quality, unknown publication dates, or mis-
coded language (e.g., a book listed in the library catalog as
being written in English that was not actually in English).
Country of publication (in this case, the United States) was
determined by 100 bibliographic sources (Michel et al.,
Our unit of analysis was the frequency of the use of a
word in a specific year. We then tested for changes in
those frequencies over time by examining the correlation
between year and frequency, with the n in each analysis of
58 (the number of years). Our results thus refer to the
annual change in the frequency of the use of the seven
swear words (shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, mother-
fucker, and tits). We also examined two composites of the
seven words. The first adds the use frequencies together (a
composite of means); thus, it is more influenced by the
words used more frequently. The second adds the Z-scores
of each of the seven words together; thus, it counts each
word equally. The seven words formed a reliable index,
Cronbach’s alpha = .71. We did not use smoothing in our
analyses or figures as we wished to capture the exact fre-
quency in each year.
By definition, correlations represent the direction and
fit of the linear relationship between the variables of
interest—here, the frequency and year. However, it is
also important to know the simple magnitude of the
change from the first part of the time period to the last.
Thus, we include a second effect size, d, based on the dif-
ference between use in the first 4 years of the time period
(1950-1953) and use in the last 4 years of the time period
(2005-2008) divided by the standard deviation. We also
used these means to calculate how many times more com-
mon the use of the word (or words) was in the late 2000s
compared with the early 1950s.
The American English corpus does not note any
changes in the types of books (fiction vs. nonfiction). As a
substitute, we obtained the percentage of books published
in the United States each year that were fiction from the
Statistical Abstract of the United States (U.S. Census,
2004); statistics were available only for 1960-2002. We
will use these statistics as controls in the analyses to rule
out the possibility that any changes over time are caused
by shifts in types of books. However, we have no way of
knowing if these percentages are the same as those in the
database. In addition, the 1982 edition of the Abstract
4 SAGE Open
notes that an increase in the number of books between
1980 and 1981 was “due in part to a major improvement
in the recording of paperbound books,” and more of these
paperback books are likely to be fiction. Thus, the mea-
surement differed with time, so these analyses should be
interpreted with caution. Fortunately, the percentage of
fiction books did not vary much by year, ranging from a
low of 7% to a high of 15%. As an alternative, we consid-
ered analyzing the English Fiction corpus of Google
Books; however, this corpus includes all books in English,
creating the possibility of confounding year with country
of origin (if, for example, the corpus included a higher
percentage of American books in later years).2 In addition,
our interest was not specific to either nonfiction and fic-
tion books.
We also examined whether the frequency of swearing in
books covaried with the violent crime rate, obtained from the
FBI Uniform Crime Reports, 1960-2008.
American books in recent years became significantly
more likely to use each of the seven swear words in the
years since 1950, with a linear change evident in most
(see Table 1, and Figures 1 and 2). Motherfucker was
used 678 times more often in the mid-2000s compared
with the early 1950s, shit 69 times more often, and fuck
168 times more often. In total, American books used the
seven taboo words 28 times more often in the mid-2000s
than the early 1950s. Effect sizes (ds) were also very
large, ranging from 6.58 to 45.83. The words vary widely
in frequency of use (see Figure 3), but all increase over
time (see Figure 1).
The results were unchanged when controlled for the per-
centage of books that were fiction, r for mean composite
with year = .98, p < .001; r for Z-score composite with
year = .97, p < .001.
Total swearing in books was positively correlated with the
violent crime rate, r for mean composite = .59, p < .001; r for
Z-score composite = .67, p < .001.
American books contained dramatically more swear words
in the late 2000s than they did in the early 1950s. Readers of
books in the late 2000s were 28 times more likely than those
in the early 1950s to come across one of the “seven words
you can never say on television.”
These findings suggest a notable decline in social
taboos against swear words consistent with previous
research finding evidence for increasing individualism
(e.g., Greenfield, 2013). American culture increasingly
values individual self-expression and weaker social
taboos, and these trends are manifested in the increasing
use of swear words. If books reflect broader cultural
trends, it suggests that other cultural products such as
movies and TV shows may also demonstrate increases in
the use of swear words (a potential future topic for
research; that said, any increases in swear words in broad-
cast media may be confounded with the introduction of
media not regulated by the Federal Communications
Commission, such as premium cable and streaming
video). Overall, these findings are consistent with the
observation that American culture has become more
accepting of crude and coarse language.
Several studies have found that swear words are more
emotional and distracting than nonswear words (Bertels,
Kolinsky, Bernaerts, & Morals, 2011; Colbeck & Bowers,
2012). This suggests that swear words are powerful ways of
attracting attention. However, as they become more com-
mon, they may lose their power. This prediction that the
attentional power or “shock value” of swear words has
declined could not be tested in these data but is an interesting
question for future research.
Table 1. Changes in the Use of Swear Words in American Books, 1950-2008.
r with
Beta for year
squared 1950-1953 vs. 2005-2008 (SD)d
Times (×)
more frequent
Shit .97 .18 .00002-.001500 (.000092) 16.78 69×
Piss .96 .18 .000018-.000196 (.000012) 14.83 11×
Fuck .96 .21 .0000049-.0008218 (.000066) 12.33 168×
Cunt .89 −.17 .0000037-.0000827 (.000012) 6.58 22×
Cocksucker .89 −.22 .0000001-.0000110 (.00000024) 45.42 110×
Motherfucker .93 .11 .0000001-.0000678 (.0000033) 20.52 678×
Tits .96 .06 .000017-.000088 (.0000038) 18.68
All seven swear words (composite of means) .97 .17 .0001-.0028 (.00018) 15.00 28×
All seven swear words (composite of Z-scores) .98 .05 −8.78-11.44 (1.20) 16.82
Note. All rs and betas over .10 have 95% confidence intervals that do not include zero. Beta for year squared tests for quadratic (curvilinear) effects.
Twenge et al. 5
These data also suggest two more historical points. First,
the trend toward the use of swear words in books began before
George Carlin’s 1972 comedy routine. His work therefore
captured and possibly amplified an emerging cultural trend.
Second, this massive shift in the use of swear words in books
occurred despite the U.S. federal government’s efforts to
reduce profanity on television. In this case, it seems the gov-
ernment was unable to constrain free expression broadly,
such as in books (although they almost certainly have been
able to on network TV). We have not examined other media
in this research, but it is plausible that the cultural push for
individual expression has in part resulted in the boom of less
regulated media such as satellite radio and cable television.
In summary, the use of swear words was significantly
more common in American books in the late 2000s com-
pared with the early 1950s, increasing in a primarily linear
fashion over this time period. The size of this effect,
expressed as a d, is massive. This change is consistent with a
cultural shift from more collective or communal values to
more individualistic, self-expressive values.
Figure 1. Changes in the use of seven swear words in American books, 1950-2008.
Note. The y axis reflects a Z-score.
Use of 7 swear words
Figure 2. Changes in use of the seven swear words, composite
of means, American books, 1950-2008.
Note. The y axis reflects the actual frequency of the words as a percentage
of words in books in that year.
6 SAGE Open
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect
to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
1. Currently, the Google Books database contains two versions
of each corpora: the original 2009 version (e.g., “American
English (2009)” and an unlabeled version updated in 2012
(e.g., “American English.”) The Google Books information
page states, “Compared to the 2009 versions, the 2012 ver-
sions have more books, improved OCR [optical character
recognition], improved library and publisher metadata.” We
relied on the “American English (2009)” database instead of
the 2012 “American English” database of Google Books to
remain consistent with previous studies of changes in indi-
vidualistic language over time, all of which used the 2009
database (e.g., Greenfield, 2013; Kesebir & Kesebir, 2012;
Twenge et al., 2012b, 2013). In addition, the 2012 “American
English” database contains a sharp, anomalous downturn in
several swear words around 2005 inconsistent with the general
trend. We could not determine whether this downturn was due
to an error in this database or to some other cause, so we con-
tinued to rely on the 2009 database. Nevertheless, both data-
bases showed dramatic increases in the use of swear words.
For example, the use of the word “shit” increased 57 times
between 1950-1953 and 2005-2008 in the “American English”
database and 69 times in the “American English (2009)” data-
base we used in the primary analyses.
2. Nevertheless, results were similar, though somewhat smaller
in magnitude, in the “English Fiction (2009)” and “English
Fiction” databases, which include only fiction books. For
example, the use of the word “shit” increased 52 times
between 1950-1953 and 2005-2008 in the “English Fiction
(2009)” database and 38 times in the “English Fiction”
database, compared with 69 times in the “American English
(2009)” database we used in the primary analyses. These
two databases also show the downturn after 2005 observed
in the “American English” database. Thus, all four data-
bases show a dramatic increase in the use of swear words,
but the increase may have been attenuated during the
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Individual Differences, 30, 735-748.
Twenge, J. M. (2014). Generation me: Why today’s young
Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled—And more
miserable than ever before (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Atria
Twenge, J. M. (2015). Time period and birth cohort differences in
depressive symptoms in the U.S., 1982-2013. Social Indicators
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Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K., & Gentile, B. (2012a). Generational
increases in agentic self-evaluations among American college
students, 1966-2009. Self and Identity, 11, 409-427.
Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K., & Gentile, B. (2012b). Increases
in individualistic words and phrases in American books, 1960-
2008. PLoS ONE, 7, e40181.
Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K., & Gentile, B. (2013). Changes
in pronoun use in American books and the rise of individu-
alism, 1960-2008. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 44,
Twenge, J. M., Carter, N. T., & Campbell, W. K. (2015). Time
period, generational, and age differences in tolerance for con-
troversial beliefs and lifestyles in the United States, 1972-2012.
Social Forces, 94, 379-399.
Twenge, J. M., Dawson, L., & Campbell, W. K. (2016). Still
standing out: Children’s names in the U.S. during the Great
Recession and correlations with economic indicators. Journal
of Applied Social Psychology, 46, 663-670.
Twenge, J. M., & Foster, J. D. (2010). Birth cohort increases in nar-
cissistic personality traits among American college students,
1982-2009. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1,
8 SAGE Open
Twenge, J. M., Sherman, R. A., & Wells, B. E. (2015). Changes in
American adults’ sexual attitudes and behaviors, 1972-2012.
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Author Biographies
Jean M. Twenge is professor of Psychology at San Diego State
University and the author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected
Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy
– and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood as well as three other
books. Her research examines cultural and generational change.
Hannah VanLandingham is a graduate student at San Diego State
W. Keith Campbell is professor of Psychology at the University of
Georgia and the author of When You Love a Man Who Loves
Himself and co-author of The Narcissism Epidemic. His research
focuses primarily on narcissism.
... This corpus also helps to solve the challenge of lacking large enough historical corpora for diachronic studies of low-frequency words [45]. The Google Books corpus based research typically utilizes the Google Books Ngram Viewer to extract and observe diachronic tendencies, such as the analysis of the complexity of British and Chinese culture from the 1900s to 2000 [46], the examination of the increasing use of the seven taboo words in American culture coinciding with rising cultural individualism from 1950 to 2008 [47], and the changing usage trends and switching relations (from competition to co-development) of a pair of near synonyms, gaming and gambling, to corroborate socio-economical changes [8]. ...
... Following Labov [20], Leech [1] initiated the data driven approach to investigate the effect of social changes on language uses, focusing on the attitudinal expression of modal verbs. Taking advantage of the availability of a larger corpus, as well as the ubiquity of language big data, this paper joins the emergent trend of using linguistic evidence to identify environmental and societal changes [8,19,41,47]. In particular, this study leverages Halliday and Hasan's theory [31] of putting language uses in the social context, and thus we can clearly identify the different behaviors of high and low value modal verbs to societal changes and we were able to produce a theoretically felicitous account that reconciles the discrepancies of the two previous studies by a careful experimental design. ...
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Leech’s corpus-based comparison of English modal verbs from 1961 to 1992 showed the steep decline of all modal verbs together, which he ascribed to continuing changes towards a more equal and less authority-driven society. This study inspired many diachronic and synchronic studies, mostly on English modal verbs and largely assuming the correlation between the use of modal verbs and power relations. Yet, there are continuing debates on sampling design and the choices of corpora. In addition, this hypothesis has not been attested in any other language with comparable corpus size or examined with longitudinal studies. This study tracks the use of Chinese modal verbs from 1901 to 2009, covering the historical events of the New Culture Movement, the establishment of the PRC, the implementation of simplified characters and the completion and finalization of simplification of the Chinese writing system. We found that the usage of modal verbs did rise and fall during the last century, and for more complex reasons. We also demonstrated that our longitudinal end-to-end approach produces convincing analysis on English modal verbs that reconciles conflicting results in the literature adopting Leech’s point-to-point approach.
... The use of profane language, once mostly confined to private discourse, appears now with regularity in such public spheres as competitive sports, entertainment awards shows, educational spaces, and politics, as well as being common to the public (e.g. online) language used by celebrities (Bednarek, 2019;Jay, 1992;O'Driscoll, 2020;Twenge et al., 2017). The ubiquity of profanity in the U.S. is illustrated in part by Kaye and Sapolsky (2009) finding that 89% of primetime television in the U.S. used at least one offensive word. ...
... Despite the prevalence of swearing, its apparent increase in public use (DuFrene & Lehman, 2002;Jay, 2009a;Johnson, 1996Johnson, , 2004Twenge et al., 2017), and a better understanding of its potential social and psychological benefits (Byrne, 2017;Jay, 2000;Philipp & Lombardo, 2017;Pinker, 2007;Stephens & Umland, 2011;Vingerhoets et al., 2013), there has been little research on the topic in the healthcare field (Stone et al., 2010), particularly in the counselling setting. It is for this reason that attempts have been made to draw on research from the field of psycholinguistics in application to counselling, to undergird speculation that swearing might promote therapeutic processes (Beers Fägersten & Stapleton, 2017;Esposito, 2014;Minot, 2013;n.d.;Trickey, 2016). ...
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In this overview, the existing research on swearing, cussing, and cursing is surveyed in the context of mental health therapy and counseling-related pursuits. Swearing is a subject of longstanding controversy, dating back to the days in which prominent figures of the psychotherapeutic tradition like Albert Ellis and Fritz Perls affirmed profane language in their counseling interviews. Although profanity is seemingly taken for granted as a categorically taboo subject matter in present-day counseling, the notion that swearing might add value to counseling remains underrepresented in the literature. Presented here are studies both supporting and contradicting the generally accepted standards for counselor use of profanity in clinical practice, illustrating the context-laden aspects of the importance of language. This article represents a platform that could act to further academic inquiry in the context of swearing in therapy on the part of therapists in framing, staking out, and subsequently showing their own position on whether swearing is simply wrong or that there is a 'right way' to use it. Ultimately the underpinnings of this article focus on an introduction to a much deeper problematic of language in therapy.
... One possible explanation for the attenuated correlation between personality traits and negatively valenced linguistic categories could be that, while personality traits have remained stable, the use of profanity (e.g., shit, fuck) and other negatively valenced words (e.g., hurt, hate, kill, damn, anger, angry) has increased over the last 20 years in the English language, presumably following cultural changes in Western societies (see also Twenge et al., 2017). This trend also becomes evident by searching the frequency of these words using Google Book's n-gram viewer ( ...
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The Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count (LIWC) is a popular closed-vocabulary text analysis software program that is used to understand whether individuals’ use of linguistic categories (i.e., word categories, such as negative affect) depends on their personality traits. Here, we present the first meta-analysis of the relations between the Big Five personality traits and 52 linguistic categories of the English language. Across 31 eligible samples (n = 85,724), the results showed that (a) self-reported personality traits are significantly correlated with linguistic categories, but the effect sizes are relatively small (the strongest effect sizes between the Big Five and linguistic categories ranged from |ρ| = .08 to .14, and the 52 LIWC categories explained on average 5.1% of personality variance); (b) observer-reported personality traits are significantly correlated with linguistic categories, with the effect sizes being small-to-medium (|ρ| = .18–.39, explaining 38.5% of personality variance); (c) 20 linguistic categories (out of 260; 5 Personality Traits × 52 LIWC Categories) correlated both with self- and observer-reported personality traits (the “kernel of truth” in linguistic markers of personality); and (d) 10 study, sample, and task characteristics significantly moderated the correlations of the linguistic categories with personality traits, showing that the effect sizes were mainly stronger for longer texts and older LIWC versions, among others.
... For example, comparing the film and television media art with the visual art stage play and the concert of the auditory art, the performance forms concentrate their characteristics, which have more artistic expression and vitality. Secondly, compared with the literature of the art of thinking and imagination, it is more impressive and influential in terms of expression (Twenge et al., 2017). ...
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This exploration aims to promote the organic integration of innovation and entrepreneurship education and art education, further promote the reform of college Students’ cultural and aesthetic education, improve college Students’ aesthetic perception ability, and help contemporary colleges establish a correct political morality. This thesis aims to further promote the reform of college Students’ cultural and aesthetic education, improve college Students’ aesthetic perception ability, and help contemporary colleges establish correct political and moral values. First, the connotation of college Students’ aesthetic education and the definition of cultural aesthetics are introduced, which is based on the characteristics of two-way interaction, multiple selectivity, timeliness and popularization of film and television media in the new media era; then, the way of questionnaire is adopted. With five universities as the research object, 250 questionnaires are distributed, and 235 valid questionnaires are collected, with a valid response rate of 94%. Finally, through the six questions, it is concluded that 68.9% of the students watch 3–5 h a day, and 4.3% of the students watch more than 7 h; 89.4% of the students hold that the same products as stars in film and television will exert an impact on consumption. Film and television culture and art have a positive and negative impact on college Students’ cultural aesthetic perception. The positive impact is that the film and television media not only provides a good way to cultivate the aesthetic perception ability of contemporary college students, but also helps them to establish the correct aesthetic values. The negative impact is mainly reflected in two levels, namely, the vulgarization of film and television media works and the consumption of aesthetic concepts. The advantage of this exploration is to put forward the reform measures of college Students’ cultural and artistic aesthetic education under the current educational background in China to help colleges better carry out college Students’ cultural and artistic aesthetic education. Based on this, the reform measures of college Students’ cultural aesthetic education under the current education in China were put forward, so as to help colleges and universities better carry out college Students’ cultural aesthetic education.
... Although there are divergent views on the use of Google-hosted language big data for research in the humanities and language sciences [38], there are already several studies based on Google N-gram [39] and the Google N-gram viewer in the literature. These studies typically focus on longer term trends of lexical variations at the macro- [40] or micro-levels [6], or in a specific social context [41]. In addition, there are also demographic studies using internet usage data [42]. ...
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This paper adopts models from epidemiology to account for the development and decline of neologisms based on internet usage. The research design focuses on the issue of whether a host-driven epidemic model is well-suited to explain human behavior regarding neologisms. We extracted the search frequency data from Google Trends that covers the ninety most influential Chinese neologisms from 2008-2016 and found that the majority of them possess a similar rapidly rising-decaying pattern. The epidemic model is utilized to fit the evolution of these internet-based neologisms. The epidemic model not only has good fitting performance to model the pattern of rapid growth, but also is able to predict the peak point in the neologism’s life cycle. This result underlines the role of human agents in the life cycle of neologisms and supports the macro-theory that the evolution of human languages mirrors the biological evolution of human beings.
... Given the current prevalence of cursing (Twenge et al., 2017), an unintentional and unplanned swear may sometimes slip out of a doctor's mouth, especially in the face of an unexpected event (e.g., dropping a pile of papers). However, all curses are not created equal. ...
Swearing in everyday conversation has become more normalized in recent years; but less certain, however, is how accepting Americans are when a doctor swears in their presence. Two online experiments (Study 1: n = 497; Study 2: n = 1,224) were conducted with US participants to investigate the impact of a doctor swearing in the course of examining a patient’s infected wound (i.e., “You’ve got a lot of nasty [shit/stuff] in there that we’re going to want to flush out”), or swearing when dropping papers in a patient’s presence while varying the intensity of a swear (i.e., “[Shit!/Damn!/Whoops!]”), with or without an apology (i.e., “I’m sorry”). Overall findings reveal a main effect for swearing, with a swearing doctor generally seen as less likable, and in Study 1, less trustworthy, approachable, and less of an expert. However, the majority of participants exposed to a swearing doctor still said they would visit that physician again. Open-ended responses from these participants revealed that they perceived a swearing doctor as more human. Results from Study 2 also found that if a doctor swore, the negative impact was lessened if the doctor apologized immediately after cursing. While results from these studies indicate it is wise for doctors to refrain from swearing, most participants were still willing to make a future appointment with a cursing doctor.
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With the exception of Modern English, the world’s major languages present advertisers and service providers with a choice: whether to address consumers using informal or formal pronouns (e.g., tu or usted in Spanish). Yet, no research has investigated the impact of informal and formal address on consumer responses. In this paper, we show that brand personality affects consumers' preferences for, and responses to, pronominal address. In five studies, we establish that informal address is more likely to be preferred, and elicits higher preferences and more positive responses, when used by warmer brands; whereas formal address is more likely to be preferred, and elicits higher preferences and more positive responses, when used by more competent brands. These effects are replicated using a variety of contexts and designs. The implications of these findings are discussed.
One debate about theories of disgust surround whether the emotion is elicited by adaptationist or by cultural sensitivities. We examine this question by examining the disgust that profanity elicits. This research examines two moderators that predict consumers’ acceptance of vulgar language within advertising contexts. Specifically, we focus on product type (new vs old) and consumers’ political ideology (conservative vs liberal), proposing that conservatives (vs liberals) are less accepting of new (vs existing) products advertised using vulgar language. This is potentially because, we propose and find, conservative consumers are more sensitive to the disgust emotion, and new products advertised with vulgar language elicit more disgust. We conducted three experiments to test the hypotheses. Experiment 1 finds support for our overall hypothesis while Experiments 2 and 3 find evidence for the role of disgust via both mediation and moderation techniques. Our findings suggest that the disgust emotion is driven by cultural and not purely by evolutionary sensitivities. We are also the first authors, to our knowledge, to connect the disgust literature to vulgar language. Hence, our findings offer both practical and theoretical implications regarding the use of vulgar language in marketing.
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We examined change over time in the reported prevalence of men having sex with men and women having sex with women and acceptance of those behaviors in the nationally representative General Social Survey of U.S. adults (n’s = 28,161–33,728, ages 18–96 years), 1972–2014. The number of U.S. adults who had at least one same-sex partner since age 18 doubled between the early 1990s and early 2010s (from 3.6 to 8.7 % for women and from 4.5 to 8.2 % for men). Bisexual behavior (having sex with both male and female partners) increased from 3.1 to 7.7 %, accounting for much of the rise, with little consistent change in those having sex exclusively with same-sex partners. The increase in same-sex partners was larger for women than for men, consistent with erotic plasticity theory. Attitudes toward same-sex sexual behavior also became substantially more accepting, d = .75, between the early 1970s and early 2010s. By 2014, 49 % of American adults believed that same-sex sexual activity was “not wrong at all,” up from 11 % in 1973 and 13 % in 1990. Controlling for acceptance reduced, but did not eliminate, the increase in same-sex behavior over time. Mixed effects (hierarchical linear modeling) analyses separating age, time period, and cohort showed that the trends were primarily due to time period. Increases in same-sex sexual behavior were largest in the South and Midwest and among Whites, were mostly absent among Blacks, and were smaller among the religious. Overall, same-sex sexual behavior has become both more common (or at least more commonly reported) and more accepted.
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Narcissism, overconfidence, and risk seeking are all positively correlated in U.S. samples. Overconfidence and risk seeking show consistent cross-cultural variation with higher averages among Chinese samples than U.S. samples, whereas the prior literature is mixed with regard to narcissism. These variables have never been studied simultaneously across U.S. and Chinese cultures. In two studies, we investigated within-cultural and cross-cultural variability in narcissism, overconfidence, and risk taking between college students from comparable universities in the United States and China. In both studies and in both nations, all three variables correlated positively with each other when questions were asked about one’s own country. Individuals from China were more overconfident and risk seeking. Individuals from the United States displayed greater narcissism scores, but standard indexes of scale invariance were inadequate, rendering cross-cultural comparisons of narcissism itself infeasible. In Study 2, independent self-construal explained cross-cultural differences in narcissism scores, supporting the argument that cultural differences in viewing oneself as autonomous and separate from society are responsible for differences in narcissism scores across cultures. Parallel analyses with regard to overconfidence and risk taking were non-significant. Taken together, although narcissism, overconfidence, and risk taking tend to co-occur within cultures, the present cross-cultural analyses demonstrate that they may arise through different mechanisms. Independent self-construal may account for narcissism effects, but the explanations for overconfidence and risk taking remain speculative.
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We examine time period and generational differences in attitudes toward women’s work and family roles in two large, nationally representative U.S. samples, the Monitoring the Future survey of 12th graders (1976–2013) and the General Social Survey of adults (1977–2012). Twelfth graders became more accepting of working mothers and equal roles for women in the workplace between the 1970s and the 2010s, with most change occurring between the 1970s and the late 1990s. Acceptance of dual-income families and fathers working half-time or not at all (stay-at-home dads) also increased. Thus, for the most part, Millennials (born 1980s–1990s) have continued trends toward more egalitarian gender roles. However, slightly more 12th graders in the 2010s (vs. the late 1990s) favored the husband as the achiever and decision maker in the family. Adults’ attitudes toward working mothers became more egalitarian between the 1970s and the early 1990s, showed a small “backlash” in the late 1990s, and then continued the trend toward increased egalitarianism in the 2000s and 2010s. In hierarchical linear modeling analyses separating the effects of time period, generation/cohort, and age, trends were primarily due to time period with a generational peak in egalitarianism among White women Boomers (born 1946–1964). Policy makers should recognize that support for working mothers is now a solid majority position in the United States and design programs for working families accordingly.
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In the nationally representative General Social Survey, U.S. Adults (N = 33,380) in 2000-2012 (vs. the 1970s and 1980s) had more sexual partners, were more likely to have had sex with a casual date or pickup or an acquaintance, and were more accepting of most non-marital sex (premarital sex, teen sex, and same-sex sexual activity, but not extramarital sex). The percentage who believed premarital sex among adults was "not wrong at all" was 29 % in the early 1970s, 42 % in the 1980s and 1990s, 49 % in the 2000s, and 58 % between 2010 and 2012. Mixed effects (hierarchical linear modeling) analyses separating time period, generation/birth cohort, and age showed that the trend toward greater sexual permissiveness was primarily due to generation. Acceptance of non-marital sex rose steadily between the G.I. generation (born 1901-1924) and Boomers (born 1946-1964), dipped slightly among early Generation X'ers (born 1965-1981), and then rose so that Millennials (also known as Gen Y or Generation Me, born 1982-1999) were the most accepting of non-marital sex. Number of sexual partners increased steadily between the G.I.s and 1960s-born GenX'ers and then dipped among Millennials to return to Boomer levels. The largest changes appeared among White men, with few changes among Black Americans. The results were discussed in the context of growing cultural individualism and rejection of traditional social rules in the U.S.
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Americans have become increasingly tolerant of controversial outgroups in results from the nationally representative General Social Survey (1972–2012, N = 35,048). Specifically, adults in the 2010s (versus the 1970s and 1980s) were more likely to agree that Communists, homosexuals, the anti-religious, militarists, and those believing Blacks are genetically inferior should be allowed to give a public speech, teach at a college, or have a book in a local library. Cross-classification hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) analyses separating the effects of time period, cohort/generation, and age show that these trends were driven by both a linear time period effect and a curvilinear cohort effect, with those born in the late 1940s (Boomers) the most tolerant when age and time period were controlled. Tolerance of homosexuals increased the most, and tolerance of racists the least. The increase in tolerance is positively correlated with higher levels of education and individualistic attitudes, including rejecting traditional social rules, but is negatively correlated with changes in empathy.
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Across four surveys (N = 6.9 million), Americans reported substantially higher levels of depressive symptoms, particularly somatic symptoms, in the 2000s–2010s compared to the 1980s–1990s. High school students in the 2010s (vs. the 1980s) reported more somatic symptoms (e.g., trouble sleeping, thinking, and remembering; shortness of breath) and were twice as likely to have seen a professional for mental issues. College students in recent years (vs. the 1980s) were more likely to report feeling overwhelmed and to believe they were below average in mental and physical health, but were less likely to say they felt depressed. Total Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression scores were higher among adults in 2000 (vs. 1988), especially somatic symptoms. Teens displayed less suicidal ideation in 2011 versus 1991 and were slightly less likely to commit suicide. Thus, more subtle symptoms of depression became more prevalent even as some overt indicators of depression became less prevalent.
Continuing a long-standing trend in the U.S. Social Security Administration database of first names (N = 358 million), American parents were less likely to choose common names for their children between 2004 and 2015, including the years of the Great Recession (2008–2010). These trends were similar in California (severely affected by the recession) and Texas (less affected). Over a longer time period (1901–2015), cyclical economic indicators were either not correlated with common names (e.g., stock market performance) or worse economic times predicted fewer common names. The results are consistent with increasing individualism, with limited support for the idea that economic threat leads people to embrace uniqueness and no real support for the idea that economic deprivation leads to more communal name choices.