Accelerated vernacularity

A certain CBS-TV show notwithstanding, what most of us worry about is $#*! our kids say:

Children are swearing at an earlier age and more often than children did just a few decades ago, according to Timothy Jay, a psychology professor at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. “By the time kids go to school now, they’re saying all the words that we try to protect them from on television,” says Jay. “We find their swearing really takes off between (ages) three and four.”

So we need to crack down on those nasty television shows, do we? Well, no, that won’t help:

Kids aren’t learning swearing at an earlier age from the television they watch. The rise in cursing mirrors the rise in cursing among adults in the past thirty years that Professor Jay has been studying the psychology of swearing.

It may not help that parents can sometimes be hypocritical when it comes to swearing. Nearly two-thirds of the adults surveyed that had rules about their children swearing at home found they broke their own rules on a regular basis. This sends children a mixed, confusing message about swearing and when it’s appropriate.

And how surprising is that? Not very:

Virtually all people swear, and people swear pretty consistently throughout their lifetime — from the moment they can speak to the day they die. Swearing is almost a universal constant in most people’s lives. Research, according to Jay, has shown we swear on average from 0.3% to 0.7% of the time — a tiny but significant percentage of our overall speech (frequently-used personal pronouns occur at approximately 1.0% rate in speech). Swearing is more common than you might think. But personality research suggests that people who swear more, not surprisingly, score higher on traits such as extraversion, dominance, hostility and Type A personalities. Swearing is not just for the uneducated or people of a lower socioeconomic class — it knows no social boundaries in its expression.

One of the few places you don’t hear much of it is in the Star Trek universe, which is odd, since they have universal translators fercrissake, and you have to assume that J. Marauding Alien isn’t always going to be pleased with the way things are going.

Me? Since I work alone, I generally have little reason to speak at the office unless someone comes in, so I suspect my own Percentage of Filth is way higher than 0.7 percent. Not that anyone really gives a $#*!.

(Via Joanne Jacobs.)


  1. Teresa »

    28 September 2010 · 12:05 pm

    About 25 years ago we lived next door to a “loud” family. A woman, her 3 near teens from first marriage (all wild children) then her new husband and 2 more kids in quick succession.

    As the youngest 2 were growing up, we could hear the language they were exposed to on a regular basis. One day when the young ones had reached the age of 3 and 4 respectively, the father was outside with them. Suddenly we hear:

    “Goddammit! I don’t want to hear those fuckin’ words come out of your fuckin’ mouth ever again! You watch your language. ”

    At which point my husband and I looked at each other and just laughed. It was the height of absurdity.

  2. CGHill »

    28 September 2010 · 1:24 pm

    As they say in South Pacific: “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”

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