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Baby’s First Curse Word

Proving once again that there is nothing they won’t do a statistical analysis of, the people at FiveThirtyEight have weighed in on what your child’s first curse word is likely to be:

Most parents remember their child’s first word, and that’s not just because that word is often ”daddy” or “mommy.” “Baabaa,” “bye” or the ominous “uh-oh” can also be a baby’s initial step into the world of words. But how many parents, I wonder, remember when their child first offered them a four-lettered linguistic gift?

study published last year in the American Journal of Psychology collected ”data about the emergence of adult like swearing in children.” The authors, Timothy Jay and Kristin Jay, recorded observations of children ages 1 through 12 and adults using taboo utterances, which “were described as offensive words and phrases (e.g. fuck), insults or name calling (e.g. douchebag), and clinical terms (e.g. penis), as well as abusive expressions (e.g. I hate you).”

The study found that, overall, boys had a slightly larger repertoire of bad words than girls (95 compared to 80). But that repertoire varied by age. By age 3 or 4, girls were using 40 taboo words while boys were using 34; but among 7- and 8-year-olds, boys were using 45, and the number of bad words girls were using slipped down to 25.

If you’re wondering about how the frequency of words in a child’s vocabulary can decline, the breakdown provides some clues. For 1- and 2-year-olds, the most frequently used taboo word was “poop” or “poopy,” but it quickly falls in usage as children become older. The researchers’ data showed that “the taboo lexicon emerges early and shifts over time” in such a way that as kids age, they have more bad words in common with adults.

Details (and charts!) at the link.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Tillman says:

    By age 3 or 4, girls were using 40 taboo words while boys were using 34; but among 7- and 8-year-olds, boys were using 45, and the number of bad words girls were using slipped down to 25.

    The girls were more judicious in their selection of curses.

    Friend of mine brought his one year old daughter to poker night once ’cause he couldn’t get a babysitter. After a loud curse, I immediately caught myself and apologized. He shrugged and said she’d heard worse. He fully expects her to be a “pottymouth” (I think that’s the industry term) when she gets older.

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  2. beth says:

    I was taking my 3 year old out for a walk in her stroller after a very frustrating week of dealing with car mechanics on the phone while trying to get my car repaired. One of my neigbors squatted down in front of the stroller and asked my daughter if our car was still being fixed. She looked up at him and said “those fwcking guys”. I learned a good lesson that day – kids are always listening.

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  3. rudderpedals says:

    @beth:

    “those fwcking guys”.

    I’d have paid good money to hear the kid pronouncing it with what I read as Michael Reynolds’s cuss word stylizing.

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  4. Ben says:

    Wait, poop is considered a taboo word? What word are you supposed to teach your kid to use? And the anatomical words shouldn’t have been used in this study either. We taught our son to use the word “penis” because I find it a lot more instructive than the dumb euphemisms that some parents come up with for genitalia.

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  5. Tillman says:

    @Ben: Frankly, it’s a Mel Brooks week. (~2:40)

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  6. Hal_10000 says:

    I remember when my daughter was about 2. We had come back from Australia and she had heard her father-in-law swearing (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it). She was bouncing a ball and it went over the safety gate and down the stairs and she said the s-word. I was torn. On the one hand, I didn’t want her to use the word. On the other hand, her speech had been coming along a bit slowly (she’s fine now) and I was just so happy she’d used the word correctly!

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