Friday, April 27, 2007

On Curse Words

Coturnix writes today about an informal survey Dave Munger on Cognitive Daily carried out about how the readers of that blog rate various curse words in their offensiveness. The survey is not a scientific one, because the respondents self-selected for it and because the words picked for the survey might not be equally representative of all cultures or even be regarded as swear words by many. For instance, penis and vagina were included in the list of swear words, and so was gay. I've never caught myself going, say, "Oh, penis!" when some idiot backs into me at traffic lights. But perhaps other people have.

With all these reservations, the graph Dave Munger posted on the answers is of interest. It looks at the differences between female and male respondents to the offensiveness of various words:

You can click on the graph to make it bigger. What struck me about the words selected to this survey is that very few lend themselves at being used against a white, male heterosexual, and this may explain why men in general (most of whom will fall into the white, male heterosexual category, I suspect) find most of the words less offensive. Now "dick" is used against men, true, but it is not as strong a word as "cunt". One can be a dick for messing up a simple task at work. To be a cunt requires quite a lot more loathing from the user of the term.