Last week’s Casual Fridays study was the most popular ever: Despite its grueling 58-question length, over 750 respondents completed the entire thing. We got so much data on foul language that I probably won’t finish writing all of it up today.
As you might suspect, in reporting these results it’s really impossible to avoid using the offensive words themselves, so if you think you might be offended, I’d recommend not reading any further. One thing our results confirmed, however: if you’re like most people who completed the survey, you don’t find most of these words generally offensive, so read on!
“Fuck” most popular, only moderately offensive
When I was a middle-school student, “fuck” was the ultimate bad word: you couldn’t get any nastier than “fuck.” Yet when we asked participants to rate eleven words for how generally offensive they were, “fuck” placed a lackluster sixth: just worse than “dick” and less offensive than “bitch.” “Fuck” also edged out “suck” for the most frequently-used word on our list.
“Nigger” most offensive, least popular
“Nigger,” by contrast, was nearly universally reviled. The vast majority of our respondents said they “never” use the word. “Nigger” also trounced “cunt” as the most offensive word on our list.
One thing I was hoping to learn from the study is how the reactions of black people to “nigger” differed from others’ reactions. Unfortunately, just 12 respondents identified themselves as black, so we don’t have significant results to report (respondents were allowed to select as many choices as they wanted for racial/ethnic background). The trend, however, was for black people to find the word slightly less offensive than white people.
Men versus women
Men found all the words significantly less offensive than women. Here are their ratings for general offensiveness:
[updated — I messed up the significance calculations on my first try]
Because of our very large sample size (477 men and 230 women), some of those differences are significant. Women find “bitch,” “cunt,” “ho,” “fag,” and “nigger” more offensive than men. In general, it appears that women find words directed at oppressed groups: women, black people, gay people — to be much more offensive compared to men.
But what about usage? When it comes to actual use, in most cases there isn’t a significant difference between men and women, but a few of the differences do approach significance.
Women’s use of “bitch” is a little higher than men’s, and the difference does approach significance, even though women find the word more offensive. Men use “cunt” and “fag” more than women, but not quite significantly so.