Study Proves Literature Has More Swear Words Than Ever Before

If you enjoy reading Electric Literature, join our mailing list! We’ll send you the best of EL each week, and you’ll be the first to know about upcoming submissions periods and virtual events.

Readers are a dadblame heck of a lot more likely to encounter cusses in contemporary books

Lady, we can all see what you’re doing. (Credit)

Get ready to wash your library out with soap: In what is arguably the most entertaining survey of literature of the past half-century, a group of researchers has discovered that there has been a shocking, SHOCKING (not really that shocking) increase in swearing in American literature.

The study, led by author and San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge, analyzed the works in the Google Books collection of American works published from 1950–2008. They searched for uses of classic profanities—”shit,” “piss,” “fuck,” “cunt,” “cocksucker,” “motherfucker,” and “tits,” the “seven words you can’t say on television” identified by George Carlin in 1972. If anyone’s upset about a dignified literary website using those words, well, bad news — apparently those words are literature now. Some of them you still can’t say on (network) TV, but you sure as shit can say them in print. The results show that books published between 2005 and 2008 were 28 times more likely to include swear words than those published in the prim and proper days of the 1950s. Specifically, the word “motherfucker” was used 678 times more often in the mid-2000s than the 1950s and “shit” was 69 times more frequent (nice).

The paper documenting this study notes that the dramatic increase has been concurrent with the growing focus on individualism and self-expression. With hypersensitivity giving way to the rebellious breaking of social norms, swearing has come to the forefront as a great way to fight the system. But our personal theory is that literature strives to reflect and interpret reality, and these days, shit is just a lot more fucked.

[The Guardian/Alison Flood]

From Convicted Murderer to Debut Author

More Like This

The Hybrid Korean-English Language of “Minari” Makes It Feel Like Home

In the movie's "Konglish," I recognize my family, especially my mother's quest to feel comfortable in America

Apr 1 - Iris (Yi Youn) Kim

Why Do I Write in My Colonizers’ Language?

I was raised to see English as more ambitious and educated than Hindi—but now I struggle with the weight of its legacy

Mar 9 - Anandi Mishra

By Telling New Stories, We Build a New Future

At a time when the real world no longer feels real, there is nothing more important than how we talk and listen

Sep 17 - Matthew Salesses
Thank You!