Today’s writers are remarkably foulmouthed, and not just the ones forced to quote short-lived White House communications directors. A new study found that books published in the mid-2000s are 28 times more likely to contain swear words than those published in the early 1950s.
According to the study in this month’s Sage Open journal, books published between 2005 and 2008 were 168 times more likely to use the word fuck than books published in the early 1950s. They were also 69 times more likely to use the word shit (nice), and a whopping 678 times more likely to use the word motherfucker.
In a project that must have been pretty difficult to explain to their grandparents, the team of researchers at San Diego State University analyzed almost one million American English books on Google Books, in search of George Carlin’s “seven words you can never say on television” — shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits.
While researchers had expected there to be a rise in the use of expletives, they didn’t expect the rate to rise quite so dramatically. Lead author of the study Jean Twenge attributed our collective literary potty mouth to society’s increase in individualism.
The increase … happened at the same time that the culture increasingly promoted self-expression and individualism. Individualism is a cultural system that emphasizes the self more and social rules less. So as social rules fell by the wayside, and people were told to express themselves, swearing became more common. I think this cultural lens is the best way to view it, rather than as bad or good.
“Perhaps it will help us move on from the idea of literature as a solely elite form — unaccountable to the truth, plurality and diversity of real life,” Jenni Fagan, author of the profanity-rich The Panopticon and one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists, told The Guardian.
If our use of swearwords has increased so quickly in just 60 years, I can’t wait to see what filthy titles the 2075 New York Times Best-Seller List has in store.