Britons’ use of swear words has declined by more than a quarter since the 1990s, a new study has found.
The research also suggests the word ‘f***’ has overtaken ‘b***dy’ as the most popular curse in the UK.
It compared the use of 16 of the nation’s most common swear words, including p***, c*** and s**g, from the 1990s to the 2010s.
In total, the amount of swearing has fallen by 27.6 per cent, from 1,822 words per million in 1994 to 1,320 words per million in 2014.
Britons’ use of swear words has declined by more than a quarter since the 1990s, a new study has found. Pictured above were the 16 most used swear words by Britons in 1994 and 2014
The research also suggests the word ‘f***’ has overtaken ‘b***dy’ as the most popular curse in the UK (stock image)
HOW THE USE OF SWEAR WORDS HAS CHANGED BETWEEN THE 1990s AND 2010s
The 16 most used swear words by Britons, both in 1994 and 2014:
The study, which was carried out by Dr Robbie Love of Aston University, looked at how swearing has changed in casual British English conversation over the past three decades.
Dr Love used two large bodies of transcriptions: the Spoken British National Corpus gathered in 1994 and the same corpus from 2014.
Together these include over 15 million words, although swear words account for less than 1 per cent.
The research showed that the type of swear words used has changed over the years, with ‘b****y’ being the most common in the 1990s and ‘f***’ in the 2010s.
This is down to a big decline in the use of ‘b****y’, Dr Love found, while ‘f***’ has remained relatively steady.
It was the second most commonly used swear word in 1994, followed by s**t, p***, b****r and c**p.
Twenty years later b****r had fallen from the fifth most common curse to the ninth, while b*****d dropped from seventh to 10th.
The big climbers are s**t, from third to second, a**e, from eighth to sixth and d***, from tenth to seventh.
T**t also rose from the 16th most common swear word in the 1990s to 13th by the 2010s.
Dr Love then analysed demographics and discovered that, although swearing is more common in men than women, the difference between the genders has decreased notably from 2.33 times more frequent in men in 1994 to 1.68 times in 2014.
Another change concerned how much people swear as they age. In both data sets, swearing is most common among people in their 20s, and then declines with age.
Research by Dr Robbie Love of Aston University found the amount of swearing has fallen by 27.6 per cent, from 1,822 words per million in 1994 to 1,320 words per million in 2014 (stock)
However, the decline was less steep in the 2010s, suggesting that people continue swearing later in life more than they did in the 1990s.
‘Swearing occurs in all walks of life and is an everyday part of conversation for many people,’ said Dr Love.
‘Despite this, it is relatively under-researched precisely because it is considered to be taboo.’
He added: ‘Swearing performs many social functions including conveying abuse and humour, expressing emotion, creating social bonds, and constructing identity.
‘The strong social conditioning around swear words makes them more psychologically arousing and more memorable than other words, and something different happens in the brain when saying them compared to euphemistic equivalents, such as saying “f***” compared to “the f-word”.
‘This research reinforces the view that swearing plays a part in our conversational repertoire and performs useful functions in everyday life.’
The study is published in De Gruyter’s Text & Talk: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Language, Discourse & Communication Studies.
IS SWEARING A SIGN OF INTELLIGENCE?
Research in 2014 revealed people who frequently swear are more likely to have a bigger vocabulary than their clean-tongued peers.
A colourful tongue does not mean the talker is lazy or uneducated, the study published in the Language Sciences journal found.
Instead, those who are more confident using taboo words are more articulate in other areas.
Kristin and Timothy Jay, the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts psychologists who co-wrote the study, said it proved swearing was positively correlated with verbal fluency.
‘We cannot help but judge others on the basis of their speech,’ they wrote.
‘Unfortunately, when it comes to taboo language, it is a common assumption that people who swear frequently are lazy, do not have an adequate vocabulary, lack education, or simply cannot control themselves.’
In their conclusion, they added: ‘The overall finding of this set of studies, that taboo fluency is positively correlated with other measures of verbal fluency, undermines the [normal] view of swearing.’
A separate and unrelated study from the University of Rochester in 2017 found that intelligent people tend to swear more.
Despite this, studies have also found that the perception of people who swear often is that they are actually less intelligent and trustworthy, creating somewhat of a paradox.