Swearing in America: Big Data Edition

Jason Kottke points me to Stan Carey's summary of Jack Grieve's study of regional variations in swearing patterns across the United States.

Jason Kottke points me to Stan Carey‘s summary of Jack Grieve’s study of regional variations in swearing patterns across the United States. Having spent the last thirteen years in the DC area, which is the swearing capital of the country in addition to being the political capital, I’m somewhat out of touch. As one might expect, swear words follow.

Jack Grieve, lecturer in forensic linguistics at Aston University in Birmingham, UK, has created a detailed set of maps of the US showing strong regional patterns of swearing preferences. The maps are based on an 8.9-billion-word corpus of geo-coded tweets collected by Diansheng Guo in 2013-14 and funded by Digging into Data.

[…]

The red-blue scale shows relative frequency. The frequency of a word in the tweets from a given county is divided by the total number of words from that county (which correlates strongly with population density). The result is then smoothed using spatial autocorrection analysis, with Getis-Ord z-scores mapped to identify clusters. Alaska and Hawaii are not included.

Polysemy – a word’s multiple meanings – has not been controlled in the graphs, so the hell map includes straight religious uses as well as sweary ones, the pussy map includes cat references, and so on. But the graphs are nonetheless highly suggestive of differential swearword (and minced oath) clustering in different parts of the country.

Hell, damn and bitch are especially popular in the south and southeast. Douche is relatively common in northern states. Bastard is beloved in Maine and New Hampshire, and those states – together with a band across southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas – are the areas of particular motherfucker favour. Crap is more popular inland, fuck along the coasts. Fuckboy – a rising star* – is also mainly a coastal thing, so far.

I must admit that, while I’ve heard the last of these more than once, I don’t think I’ve ever used it in conversation. I use all the others except perhaps darn and douche with great frequency, although I typically use pussy in its derogatory rather than its anatomical sense. I’m right at home as a Southerner living in DC in my overuse of the f-word:

jack-grieve-swear-map-of-usa-gi-z-score-fuck

I very much lag the local trend in the rising compound:

jack-grieve-swear-map-of-usa-gi-z-score-fuckboy

Additionally, I use asshole far more often and bitch far less than my heritage and current residence would predict. Lots more maps and commentary at Carey’s site.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ron Beasley says:

    After spending several years in Europe in the late 60s and early 70s I remember that when I returned to Oregon I was amazed that females were using the F word.

  2. michael reynolds says:

    Fwck, aszhole, sh!t and cwnt probably cover 90% of my “obscenities.” Motherfwcker has never done much for me. ‘Bastard’ was my grandparent’s word so it feels dated to me. I try to avoid gender-specific words like ‘bitch’ and use ‘cwnt’ like an Englishman or an Aussie.

  3. Gustopher says:

    I am amazed Seattle is below the national average for douche. I shudder to think of how often it gets used elsewhere, given how often I hear it here.

  4. dmhlt says:

    If you zoom in real tight and look real close – that little red dot that keeps showing up pretty much in the center of the map … that’s where I live.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I found it really surprising that MO, and especially east central MO, is mostly blue for every single word. I figure that’s because I’m a carpenter and sailors can learn a thing or 2 from us. An old buddy of mine uses ‘fvck’ for everything, as in, “Fvck them fvckin’ fvcks.” It’s the roofers card of curse words, it covers all situations.

  6. CSK says:

    What, pray, does “fu*kboy” mean? I can guess, but I’d rather have an authoritative definition.

  7. Tillman says:

    @CSK: Seconded. I can only infer it has something to do with a manwhore, itself a lovely insult/term of endearment to male colleagues.

  8. Lynn Eggers says:

    @CSK: “What, pray, does “fu*kboy” mean? I can guess, but I’d rather have an authoritative definition.”

    http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=fuck+boy

  9. Lynn says:

    Look f*boy up in urban dictionary … I tried to post a link but it didn’t make it past the moderator.