The Most Popular Curse Words on Twitter Depress Me
A study was done looking at what, how often, and when we curse on Twitter, with the top 20 curses on Twitter being listed. Curse word is used loosely in this case. Yes, the ones you’d suspect are on the list, but also, a bunch of words that we’d deem “could get you sent to the principal’s office” — such as whore — are also on the list and aren’t curses insomuch as they are descriptive terms. I mean, perhaps your sister really is a whore, as in that’s her job. So technically, by writing something like, “gah, my sister caught a VD at her job!” And having one of your Twitter followers tweet back, “what does she do?” And you respond, “my sister is a whore.” Well, then, you cursed. According to this study. Just kidding. They even looked at how we use curse words online.
The researchers were able to find 788 curse words to research. That’s a lot of curse words. Which means that some of them are less curse-y than others. I started trying to construct a list of the curse words I know in my head, but I petered out before I hit 100. So well done, researchers.
So, first and foremost, you should know that research has found that “0.5% to 0.7% of all the words we speak in our daily lives are curse words.” On social media, it’s 3%. So we curse a lot more when it’s going to be on the screen for eternity than when we’re saying something in passing to a single person that will not be recorded. Interesting. One out of every 13 tweets contains a curse word.
Over 90% of the cursing on Twitter is done with the top seven words: fuck, shit, ass, bitch, n*gga, hell, and whore.
Yes, I put as asterisk in that word. While fuck, shit, ass, bitch, hell, and whore don’t bother me in the least, that last one does. Everyone should have a personal bar, and that one doesn’t clear mine.
Nor do a few others on the 20 most popular swear words list:
Three of my least favourite words hit the top 20, two of which are lecture-worthy to me. In other words, when I hear kids saying them in public, I say something to them. While I try not to make it a habit of lecturing other adults, I have no problem trying to shape the youth of America. So I have been known when I hear kids shout out things such as “that’s retarded!” or “that’s so gay!” to paddle up to them in the pool and cheerfully let them know how much their misuse of the word affected me. My hope is that I startle the use of that word right out of them. And, at the very least, they will never forget the day that woman in combat boots came up to them in the mall and told them how she feels when she hears those words misused. And they have the image of my smiling face in their brain every time they say it.
Again, we all have our own bars and no one has to listen to me and elevated their verbalizations to reach mine, but these are cases where I am not a delicate flower and cursing stings my precious ears. This is a case where I can explain the etymology of the word, how it came to be used negatively, and why it offends me to hear someone use it so flippantly.
So it depresses me to hear that my two pet peeves — #15 and #20 — made the list.
Back to the cursing breakdown, fuck covers 34.73% of the cursing done on Twitter. It really carries a heavy weight in comparison to the work done by the next most popularly-used words, shit. Shit only occurs 15.04% of the time. Followed by “ass (14.48%), bitch (10.34%), n*gga (9.68%), hell (4.46%), whore (1.82%), dick (1.67%), piss (1.53%), and pussy (1.16%).”
Why we curse is mostly to vent our frustrations: “Not surprisingly, cursing is associated with negative emotions: 21.83% and 16.79% of the cursing tweets express sadness and anger emotions, respectively.” Though the rest of the story is one of using curse words to express love: “However, we also find that 6.59% of cursing tweets express love. One reason is that curse words can be used to emphasize emotions, including positive ones such as love: e.g., “fucking love you.” Another reason is that certain curse words are used between close friends as a playful interaction, e.g., close female friends call each other whore.”
The study goes on to look at when we curse and where we are when we curse and who curses more when it comes to men or women.
You may wonder about who funded this study. “This research was supported by US National Science Foundation grant IIS-1111182: SoCS: Social Media Enhanced Organizational Sensemaking in Emergency Response.” Thanks, US National Science Foundation. Money well spent.
Are you more or less likely to use a curse word online vs. in regular speech considering the possible permanence of the Internet?
Note to my mother: I had to write curse words in this case because I’m reporting on research. It’s not my fault.