Life

Love to swear? It's merely a sign of your eloquence

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Hayley Kadrou
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If you can turn the air blue without a moment's hesitation, you may be more intelligent than you’ve previously been given credit for – both in a social and scholarly context.

As well as being thought of as vulgar and inappropriate, swearing has long been associated with lower levels of intellect, as throwing a F*!& into a conversation is thought to be a substitute for a lack of a better word in the speaker's vocabulary.

But new research has demonstrated that we’ve all been a little too quick to judge.

In the Language Sciences journal, psychologists Kristen Jay and Timothy Jay outlined their most recent finding about the link between swearing, vocabulary and intelligence.

Their research indicated that there is a positive correlation between knowledge, familiarity of swear words and higher intelligence levels.

Swearing man

The researchers took the “poverty of vocabulary” concept – the theory that people swear due a lack of a wide vocabulary - and looked into its validity. Using a sample of students, they firstly asked them to name as many swear words as they could within one minute. They also asked them to recite other lists of words, such as naming as many animals as possible within the 60 second time frame.

Their findings showed that those who thought up a greater number of swear words also had a greater number of responses ready for each different subject within their vocabulary. They concluded that “fluency is fluency regardless of subject matter... The ability to generate taboo language is not an index of overall language poverty.” 

They also found that there was little difference between the sexes in both the lexicon of swear words and normal words. 

WTF on chalkboard

In the journal, the researchers wrote:

“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.

“The overall finding of this set of studies, that taboo fluency is positively correlated with other measures of verbal fluency, undermines the POV [Poverty of Vocabulary] view of swearing. That is, a voluminous taboo lexicon may better be considered an indicator of healthy verbal abilities rather than a cover for their deficiencies.

"Speakers who use taboo words understand their general expressive content as well as nuanced distinctions that must be drawn to use slurs appropriately.”

So while it’s still not advisable to take up dropping F-bombs in your morning meeting, take comfort when you can think of more than one nasty swear word for the man that pushed you out the way to get on this train this morning.

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Hayley Kadrou

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