Cognitive Daily

Update: New version of the study is up here!

#@*& it if I couldn’t come up with a shorter Casual Friday study this week. When we started doing Casual Fridays a year and a half ago, the goal was to keep them short — less than five questions, if possible. They’ve gradually expanded from week to week, but we’ve typically been able to keep to around ten questions.

But this week I came up with a *@&&ing good idea for a study that just wouldn’t cooperate with the length limits. Fortunately, the subject matter tends to be quite arousing: offensive language. What words really get you *&#$ing angry? Now we’ll finally be able to find out. I’ve picked out 11 of the foulest, most shocking words I can imagine, and I’m going to ask you to rate them along 5 different dimensions. There’ll be a total of 58 questions.

If you don’t have that *%#&ing much time, you’re free to skip this one. I have a feeling we won’t have much of a problem filling up our 333 available spots.

Click here to participate.
(Obviously, if you think you might be disturbed by the language of this study, you’re advised not to participate — and you might not want to complete it in a public place)

As usual, you’ll have until 11:59 p.m. EDT on April 25 to complete the study, or until we fill up with 333 responses, whichever comes first. Then don’t forget to come back next Friday for our totally uncensored results post.

(One other note: I’m posting this early this week because I’m leaving town for the weekend at 9:00 a.m. EDT. If you’re an early riser like me, I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know about any problems with the survey in the comments — otherwise, everyone will have to live with them all weekend long.)


  1. #1 Rakel
    April 20, 2007

    I don’t think vagina or penis are cursewords. Might be because I’m not native english speaker, but I have always associated them with neutral medical terms. I mean, if they are cursewords, what do you call parts you show your urologist/gyneogologist?

  2. #2 Eve
    April 20, 2007

    I would agree that proper terms aren’t cursewords and therefor are not offensive. Even most cursewords don’t bother me. The words I find most offensive are all racially and most sexually derogative terms (b*tch doesn’t phase me).

    My husband found the whole Imus thing amusing and repeated the line over and over for about 2-3 days. After the first couple of times I got really mad and threatened to wash his mouth out with soap while he slept. He settled down after that 🙂

  3. #3 jim
    April 20, 2007

    yeah, penis and vagina? I can think of worse than that. Think of Carlin’s words you can say. Tits, balls, cocksucker. Where’s good old fashioned cocksucker? And how come only the N word? What about other racial epithets? I guess that’s a whole other casual friday…

  4. #4 Gordon Worley
    April 20, 2007

    I imagine there’s probably some reason for including words like penis and vagina. Maybe the purpose is to distract us into thinking they’re curse words when really the purpose is to be able to compare with how offensively we rank non-offensive words to get a control. He just didn’t want to use a word like “blue” because it would have cause us just to mark nonoffensive without considering our answer.

    Or maybe Dave just gets really giggly when he hears the names of body parts. 🙂

  5. #5 Dave Munger
    April 20, 2007

    I really had to restrain myself with the number of words … there are so many! But it was getting very long as it was, so I just had to stop at some point. There’s no real surprise to this study, so I can let you in on some of my thinking — I wanted to include the “benign” and “loaded” versions of several different terms, to see if the concept itself was what people saw as offensive or the particular word used to describe the concept.

  6. #6 Austin
    April 20, 2007

    Looks like i Say you *%£king C*@T a lot!

    Why did you ask if people were gay/straight/whatever?
    why Fag and not Dyke?

  7. #7 Selva
    April 20, 2007

    Speaking for myself, most of the words were not offensive at all. I took offense only when the context indicated perversion (loaded as you say).

  8. #8 Roy
    April 20, 2007

    When you say ‘use’ I think you mean ‘direct at a person’.

    There’s a difference between “Life is a bitch” and “She is a bitch”.

    At work, I wouldn’t talk about anyone’s body parts. But I would say that Cheney’s first name is Richard, Dick is his job title.

  9. #9 Scott Spiegelberg
    April 20, 2007

    For “gay” I assumed it to be used in a derogatory way. For that I put that I never use the word. But I certainly say “gay” a lot when I am talking about gay rights.

  10. #10 aurora
    April 20, 2007

    I find the degree of offense I take is entirely dependent on the (perceived)intention of the person using it. I know most of my friends at school to be rather liberal and most of them have friends who are, or are homosexual. So I’m not ever offended when they use “fag”(a word which carries many nuances of meaning). Point being, if someone I know to be a homophobic racist uses the words “fag” or “nigger”, I’m extremely offended. If my friend does, who isn’t either, I’m not.

  11. #11 dc
    April 20, 2007

    By advising those who “might be disturbed by the language” not to participate you have skewed your sample. This will make the results worthless.

  12. #12 Roadtripper
    April 20, 2007

    For some of these words, I found myself wondering about usage. Sometimes I say, “[xxx] is acting like such a bitch.” At other times, it’s “Don’t bitch at me like that!” Is the word more offensive as a noun or a verb?

  13. #13 Victor Norman
    April 20, 2007

    The words I get *so* sick of hearing are “Oh, my God!”

  14. #14 Amy
    April 20, 2007

    This was an interesting and fun study. You might get some bizarre results on certain words because people interpreted them in different ways. For instance, unlike Scott (#9), I interpreted “gay” to mean “all instances of the word ‘gay'” – and therefore I don’t find it offensive at all, and use it quite often myself. I’d be interested if any words showed bimodally-distributed results like this.

    I’m also curious how perceived offensiveness of the slur directed at oneself varies with demographic characteristics (which I imagine you intend to look at, given that you asked about them). I tried to imagine someone calling me “n*gger” or “penis”, for example, and found it mainly giggle-worthy (being a white female), even though I think “n*gger” is an extremely offensive word. In that vein, I confess to a bit of disappointment that you didn’t also ask about orientation, since that would probably affect the offensiveness of words like “gay”, “fag”, etc.

  15. #15 Josh
    April 20, 2007

    Penis and Vagina are going to get very different different responses from different social and age groups. My mother, a surgeon, probably uses each of those many times a day. I, too, use them once or twice a day when talking to my toddler–I mean she asks so I’m going to talk about it. But I don’t think I said either one more than once a month prior to having a kid. Does this spread in usage help or hinder analysis of a survey like this?

  16. #16 sasha
    April 20, 2007

    I agree with the other commenters who weren’t sure whether to consider how the word was used. I think I would be upset if someone called me a vagina, but I wouldn’t be upset if someone just used the word vagina in general conversation. I wouldn’t be upset if someone called me gay, because I am, but on the other hand, I’m probably all the more sensitive to someone saying “that’s so gay!” because it offends me when sexuality is used as an insult. Anyway, I answered as if the words were used in a way meant to insult.

  17. #17 allison
    April 20, 2007

    I think if you don’t think of “penis” and “vagina” as offensive, you’re just not being creative enough – you smelly penishead.

  18. #18 Danny G
    April 20, 2007

    Whatever happened to “shit”?

  19. #19 Jenny
    April 20, 2007

    Josh, your toddler asks about penises and vaginas once or twice a day?!?! Goodness.

    My favorite is still “bunghole.”

    Beavis: “What’s a bunghole?”
    Butthead: “You’re a bunghole, bunghole!”

  20. #20 rehana
    April 20, 2007

    Wow, that filled up fast.

  21. #21 Clayton
    April 22, 2007

    This reminds me of the BBC study:

    I, like you, don’t easily offend. Words themselves don’t do it, context and intent are everything, but even expressed with vehement hostility they don’t really boil my blood. More saddening than maddening. I never the less find the study of the cultural variations amongst insults and taboos interesting, and telling.

  22. #22 Nat
    April 22, 2007

    I missed the survey. Was “censorship” on it? That’s my choice.

    Nothing makes me more angry than a bleep tone (or silence) instead of the actual word.

  23. #23 Dave Munger
    April 23, 2007

    Wow —

    I’m back from my trip and it looks like everything is in order. I’ll probably post some pictures on later today; I’ll link from here.

    Sorry the survey filled up so quickly! We’re working on finding a survey solution that will allow for more responses, but since there are only two more Casual Friday studies before we leave for our summer break, it will probably have to wait until the fall.

  24. #24 Ronald
    April 23, 2007

    Damn! You ffing retard! Why couldn’t you find a better site sooner ;-)) I’d love to have done the test!
    But I have to agree with posters that say context is everything. A simple word like “stupid” (or retard;-) can offend more than any expletive in the right context. OTOH it is also a fact that wanting to be offended is what plays a role: you can gain a strategic advance by acting being offended. In that context almost any word can be interpreted as offensive.

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