Here’s a regrettable trend: as profanity has become commonplace, swear words are losing their usefulness.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the language used in movies and television has gotten dramatically more profane .
There are a couple of reasons why.
First is the rise of subscription-based streaming television, such as Netflix and Amazon Prime. The Journal explains that video-on-demand services don’t have to comply with strict FCC profanity rules that are imposed on broadcast television and radio programming.
Chad Michael, CEO of content-filtering service EnjoyMoviesYourWay.com, tells the Journal that the more that profanity occurs on subscription shows, the more numb we all become to it, which gives the writers license to use swear words even more.
And, gadzooks, they're using swear words lots more!
The Journal reports that after scanning more than 60,000 popular movies and TV shows released since 1985, engineers at EnjoyMoviesYourWay.com documented a massive increase in the use of dirty words: The F-word went from 511 in 1985 to 22,177 in November of this year as the S-word went from 484 in 1985 to 10,864 in November.
Which brings us to the second reason why profanity is so daggone common: our social rules are breaking down.
San Diego State University psychologist Jean M. Twenge conducted a study in 2017 that explored the use of the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” featured in comedian George Carlin’s famous 1972 monologue.
She found that books published between 2005 and 2008 showed a 28-fold increase in the use of the seven dirty words over books published in the early 1950s.
She said the dramatic increase in cussing could be blamed on growing individualism, which is “a cultural system that emphasizes the self more and social rules less.”
Twenge says that “as social rules fell by the wayside, and people were told to express themselves, swearing became more common.”
In other words, as social taboos give way to individual wants, needs and expression, dropping the F-bomb in public has become no big deal.
What’s worse is that as more self-expressers cuss, the more that cuss words lose their wonderful shock power!
Well, fudge nuggets to that!
Look, swearing can be useful.
A National Library of Medicine study shows that swearing increases stress and pain tolerance — a practice that certainly helps me get through cable news reports.
If you want to know the truth, people who swear are more honest, according to a Sage Journals study.
“Profanity was associated with less lying and deception at the individual level and with higher integrity at the society level,” concludes the study’s authors.
And let’s not forget that people who swear frequently are smarter than people who do not, reports U.S. News and World Report.
Mega-cursers tend to know more words, but choose curse words because they pack more linguistic clarity and punch.
As a highly practiced purveyor of the salty tongue, I beg my amateur cussing friends — and the swear-happy streaming-content writers — to stop the ubiquitous cussing.
Goshdarnit, swearing has been around for centuries and every culture has had taboo terms that children would get their mouths washed out with soap and water for daring to speak.
There’s only one way for us to make crude words vulgar again.
We must use them sparingly and classify them as taboo again.
It’s our only hope to restore the sanctity of one of our culture’s most prized resources: our profanity!
Copyright 2023 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Purcell, creator of the infotainment site ThurbersTail.com, which features pet advice he’s learning from his beloved Labrador, Thurber, is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. Email him at [email protected].