While using swear words and slurs is typically associated with rudeness, ignorance and impoliteness, a new study has shown that people who have knowledge of a large number of profanities generally maintain a wider fluency with words in general. The study suggests that having a large number of different ways to present a vulgar phrase or offer an offensive remark shows that the individual most likely has a more profound vocabulary in the grand scheme of things.
The study had 43 participants in their late teens and early twenties compare their general vocabulary with the knowledge of words that are perceived to be taboo. To start, participants completed a Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWAT). This test assessed their ability to instantly produce words when given the command. In one minute, participants had to list as many words that started with a certain letter.
After the COWAT, participants were given another minute to list as many animals as possible. Finally, they were given yet another minute to list as many “taboo” words as they could.
The results showed that participants who were able to provide several different words that start with a single letter were also able to identify more animals and a larger number of naughty words. The researchers found that there is also a positive relationship between vulgar fluency and neurotic and open personality traits. Additionally, there is a negative correlation between the knowledge of dirty words and the traits of agreeableness and conscientiousness.
In total, more than 400 different swear words were generated in the study. Needless to say, some of them were quite creative by the time all was said and done.
However, the main finding of this very small study was the confirmation of the “fluency is fluency” hypothesis. The idea is that word proficiency is essentially the same across all contexts. Those who know more general vocabulary are likely to know more nouns, animals and, yes, even swear words.
The researchers also wanted to stress that swearing more in everyday life doesn’t mean one’s vocabulary is larger. That being said, if one has the knowledge of a large number of offensive phrases, they are pretty likely to have a wide vocabulary in general as well.