Monday, February 29, 2016

The Geography of Profanity

The United States is a wide, diverse country, with different preferred cuisines (if you can call hotdish or Cincinnati chili cuisines, for God's sake!), regional accents, dialects, political orientations (the usual suspects), customs, and even religions. People have already noted that sugary beverages may be referred to as soda, pop, or coke in different sections of the country. Still, there are pressures towards homogeneity: breakfast burritos and sausage with gravy are pretty widely served.

But Jack Grieve, a British forensic linguist at Aston University, has looked into the American geography of profanity. Now here we have some surprises. For  instance, the word shit is widespread from East Texas up the Southern and Atlantic coasts until New York City. By way of contrast, it is infrequently used in Maine, the Appalachian region, the mountainous West, and parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin.

(Areas in orange use the word more; areas in blue use it less.)




Contrast this with the usage of the F-bomb. There's a fuck belt running from Brownsville to New Orleans. This picks up near Atlanta and runs along the Eastern seaboard up well into Maine. And Californians are well comfortable with this word. Apparently, it is more taboo in the inland states



Or the use of the word asshole. Very clearly New Englanders, New Yorkers, and Pennsylvanians use that word collectively more often while Southerners less so. I think that in the South that word falls into the category of fighting word. I remember some research in which Southerners were more likely to respond autonomically to that stimulus.

The word damn seems to have high potency across the Deep South. Maybe this is from that old time religion, or the penchant of some to refer to damned Yankees. (There was actually a play with that title about the Bronx Bombers, specifically).



And, looking at  minced profane word, gosh definitely has a regional usage, more frequently used in Eastern Tennessee and Kentucky, Texas, and Oklahoma. It's almost unheard in New England. 


So what can we generalize from this? Well, the Eastern states are, relatively speaking, profane; while those in the Rockies are relatively frugal with their cussing. Or they have more to be profane about.

16 comments:

John Hill said...

Happy to see that my area of MO is generally blue, except for a few assholes!

TexWisGirl said...

gosh made me smile. :)

Linda Kay said...

You might notice that central Illinois is not colored for any of the profanity words. And it is true, as I still have trouble hearing it. My daddy never said a "cuss word" within my hearing range.

Cloudia said...

You have the smarts to do some really interesting and important research, Angel! To find hypothesis, operationalize them, and generate usable data is a talent and you got it!

Mike said...

Well damn that's interesting. And I have a chant that I'll put on here later.

Duckbutt said...

I remember participating in a vote that crap was not a dirty word.

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

We're more moderaTe in profanity than the rest of Alabama,

allenwoodhaven said...

Very interesting! I'd never thought of this kind of regional variation. I do hear a lot of swearing, but try to personally save it for extreme situations. I don't like to dilute my language.

Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer said...

Are there more assholes per capita in the northeast?

Arlee Bird said...

I hope American taxpayers didn't have to pay for this. He would have had to get a very large sampling from throughout the country to come to any halfway accurate conclusion about this. These university guys have too much time on their hands. I don't care where I've gone in the U.S., I hear way too much profanity used without discretion and it includes all the words.

Arlee Bird
A to Z Challenge Co-host
Tossing It Out

Bilbo said...

I wonder if the data were collected in an election year?

eViL pOp TaRt said...

Arlee Bird, the researcher was in the U.K. at a university there.

Bilbo, elections do bring out profanity in people.

Rammer, I never thought of that!

Thanks for the comments, all! I'm not into profanity myself, except as a language attribute linked with emotion.

Cajun French has a few all-purpose swear words.

Cathy Kennedy said...

Gosh darn, the cats out of the bag on this one! This was really interesting. :D BTW, are you joining this round of BoTB?

Gorilla Bananas said...

Is "shit" pronounced "sheet" is some areas of the South? I'd also be interested in "son-of-a-bitch". How many Americans say "sum bitch" like Buford T Justice?

Cherdo said...

Looks like I'm in the blue, blue, blue for everything except "Gosh."

"What the what?" as Liz Lemon would say.

Mike said...

I decided not to put the chant here. If you send me an email I'll send it to you.