Study Proves Literature Has More Swear Words Than Ever Before

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

About the Author

More Like This

10 Books with Nameless Narrators

These books let you get intimately acquainted with people you wouldn't be able to call to across a room

Jul 2 - Ruth Minah Buchwald

Theories of the Point-of-View Shift in AC/DC’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’

Welcome to The Commuter, our home for poetry, flash, graphic, and experimental narrative.

Mar 18 - Jennifer Wortman

7 Books About the Dangers of (Mis)Communication

Lindsay Stern, author of “The Study of Animal Languages,” on the fraught margin between what we say and what we actually mean

Mar 13 - Lindsay Stern