Scientific Breakthroughs

Uttering Profanities May Reflect An Honest Person, Researchers Uncover in New Study

Uttering Profanities May Reflect An Honest Person, Researchers Uncover in New Study
PHOTOGRAPH: Adele | Photo shows singer Adele.

Hearing someone curse or swear in your presence may not be to your liking.  The person uttering cuss words, however, may be more authentic than you think.

The link between swearing and honesty was pointed out in a study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Cussing used to be plain bad behavior, but that may not be all there is to it, after all.

To utter profanity or use language with sexual references, blasphemy or just plain vulgarity has often been frowned upon in civilized society. In the worst cases, profanity even constitutes oral defamation or slander and may be ground for legal action.

In the Old Days

Sometimes, even when the profanity was not meant to harm any specific target, a penalty would be enforced. The 1939 classic film Gone with the Wind saw Clark Gable uttering the unforgettable line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

The producers of the movie were slapped a $5,000 fine. Nowadays, though, television shows cover the sound of inadvertent profanity with bleeps, movies contain innumerable cuss words – remember Edward Norton’s character saying “f_ _ _” numerous times in Fight Club? – and books filled with such words win awards (an example is James Kelman’s How Late it Was, How Late).

Even as we have become more tolerant of profanity over the decades, a new study may well cause us to like the cussing person than to be antagonized by him or her. Researchers from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States and Hongkong have found profane speakers to be more candid or expressive of the truth.

Dr. David Stillwell of the University of Cambridge, co-author of the paper, states, “Just as they aren’t filtering their language to be more palatable, they’re also not filtering their views.” The study was done with the use of questionnaires.

The first participants, numbering 276 persons, were asked to indicate their favorite and most often used swear words. Then they took a lie test to see if they were merely speaking in a truthful way or what they deemed to be acceptable behavior.

The results showed those who put down a greater number of curse words were less likely to have lied. Another questionnaire collected data from 75,000 Facebook users from the north-eastern US states (such as Connecticut, Delaware, New York) and southern states (Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi).

The data collated were indicative that the profanity users were also making use of language patterns scientifically related to honesty – including the use of pronouns “I” and “me.” The data also showed that people from the north-eastern states were more likely to swear.

Even Public Figures Swear in Public

Audiences who watched Jennifer Lawrence in The Silver Linings Playbook saw her character use the F-word a number of times in the movie, for which she won an Oscar. In real life, Lawrence is also known for uncontrollably spewing profanities.

In one instance, she donated $100 to charity for every profane word she uttered on a televised show. Jennifer has also openly admitted to having a favorite cuss word – “f _ _ _ _ _ _ .”

Well-loved singer Adele has an accent that is said to somehow “juxtapose the curse words that leave her mouth.” Yet her language or expressions have become an inextricable part of her personality that many people have come to love.


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