Swearing Survey

When the Giants beat the Patriots yesterday, and thwarted their attempts at perfection, I expect that a great collective curse was uttered by half the population of New England. Thinking of that got me to wondering about swearing in general. If you’re interested, I have a few questions.


How often do you swear?
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What type of swear words do you use most often?
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What severity of words do you typically use when you swear?
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How often do you use pseudo-swear words (e.g., fetch, darn)?
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How loud is your typical swearing?
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How many languages can you swear in (regardless of whether or not you actually do)?
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Do you ever swear in a language other than your native language?
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What most often leads you to swear?
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When you want to swear, but don't, what stops you?
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In your opinion, how bad is swearing?
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What do you call it?
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A few thoughts on my own experience with swearing: I had a much more negative reaction to some swearing as a teenager than I do now. For example, I remember enjoying the movie 2010 a lot and watching it repeatedly, but always feeling a bit uneasy at the scene where one of the characters listens over and over to David Bowman’s last transmission, where he said, “My God! It’s full of stars!” But now I hear “My God” so often, from co-workers and on TV and in movies, that it hardly registers. Unless one of my sons says it, in which case I ask them to please substitute a pseudo-swear like “My gosh.”

Harsher swearing still grates on me. Good Will Hunting, for example, was so full of f-words that I couldn’t enjoy any of it. I don’t even have a good sense of whether I would have found the movie interesting with less swearing. The f-words just overwhelmed any other impression.

As far as my own swearing goes, I don’t do much of it, particularly with my kids around. Two situations, though, that enable my profane tongue are driving in traffic and dealing with balky computers. Computers in particular. I love them–they’re so useful and so fun and can do so many neat tricks. I guess that’s probably why I feel all the more betrayed when programs crash and my files evaporate into the ether.

I don’t have a very good sense of how Mormons swear, except that I expect we feel more guilty about it if we do it, and we’re of course well-known for our pseudo-swear words like flip. I’d love to hear any experiences or theories about this, though.

43 thoughts on “Swearing Survey

  1. 1

    I’ll say damn in front of the kids, that plus a$$ in front of DH, and sh!t only quietly to myself (except when we almost had a wreck the other night — skidded off a freeway exit ramp — and then everybody heard me say the S word). The F word doesn’t bother me when spoken by other adults (if I heard it from a kid, though, it probably would). I’m very desensitized to hearing the Lord’s name spoken in vain, like you, but the couple times my girls have said it (after hearing it on tv and from their Catholic grandmother) have made me do a double take and they were quickly corrected. I don’t like that one AT ALL coming from kids, especially from mine.

    I think swearing is such an interesting taboo. How / why did these words get so much power? Why is the S word a no-no when crap (or poop, or feces) means the same thing and nobody bats an eye?

    My personal feeling is that — aside from taking the Lord’s name in vain, which I do think is serious — swearing is simply impolite and doesn’t rise to the level of sin. It’s a little bad, because depending on the context it could be very inconsiderate of your listener, but I don’t think it’s bad in the sense of damaging your soul. Words are just words until we give them power.

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    Sorry to have to be the one to break it to you, ECS. It sounds like you were extremely invested in the outcome, not unlike Kiskilili, who I know lives and dies with the Patriots, Red Sox, and Celtics. πŸ˜‰

  4. 4

    Great thread.
    I’ve always thought swearing was bad, but my friend told me once that swear words were invented by the prude (or something like that). Despite that, I still dislike hearing certain profanities, especially repeatedly.
    I don’t think I ever swore as a child or teenager, but as an adult I like to do it sometimes just for the effect on my parents or husband. (not the bad ones, but damn, hell, etc) I’m also notorious for saying “oh crap,” every time something bad happens. I really started to try to break that habit when “cwap” was my son’s first word. oops. πŸ™‚
    That said, I hate it when people swear in meetings. I’m on two boards of directors and when people swear, it seems so unprofessional. Are other workplaces like that as well?

    ECS, I watched half of the game yesterday and still didn’t know who won! My husband would die if he knew that!

  5. 5

    i think there’s a time and place for swearing. in front of my in-laws or grandparents? no. when i burn the soup and have to dump most of it down the drain when we have almost no food in the house? definitely. when i’m at my wit’s end with the kids? probably not, though i’d like to. in the bedroom? occasionally. it really depends, to me, on the time and place and, possibly even more importantly, the intent. if someone says “crap” or “darn” it has the same intent as saying “shit” or “damn,” and if you think those words are evil or bad or wrong then you probably can’t get away with euphamizing them (and i really don’t care if that’s a real word or not). πŸ˜€

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    LOL, Ziff! Thanks for instigating my first hearty laugh of the day πŸ™‚

    Everyone was in total shock yesterday, so perhaps the swear words will come today.

  8. 8

    It is interesting to me how we understand the taking of God’s name in vain. Devout Catholics say _God_ all the time, as part of their regular conversation – My God, swear to God, God bless you, even Gosh Dang – and it doesn’t seem to bother them at all.

    I don’t mind my kind of swearing at all. The world would be a better place if we said hell and dammit more. The word that really bothers me is freakin’, and Mo’ folk say it all the time. My freakin’ home teachers, my freakin’ companion, etc. I really would rather hear the regular f word.

  9. 9

    Swearing gives me the shivers –and I can’t stand to watch a movie riddled with profanity. To me, it shows lack of respect. Oh, sure, I’ve said my fair share of “damn” and “hell”, but I try my best to limit those to under-the-breath-nothing-else-will-do moments. And I especially hate to do it in front of my children.

    Profanity is just annoying. It’s grating, and it show little imagination. But Mark (#8) has a good point –I can’t stand to see religious people taking the Lord’s name in vain all the time as if it’s no big deal. My kids started saying it after watching Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, because at the end, all they could say is “Oh, my G_! ” We had to have some nice conversations with our children about it –and now, of course, they hear it everywhere. Grrr…

    But Mark, I have to disagree about the “F” word. Sure “freakin'” is really annoying, but it’s not as awful as the alternative. The alternative is just…awful. Really, really awful. Why don’t we just not use any of them? That would be so nice!

  10. Pingback: Johnsenclan » Blog Archive » links 2/5/08

  11. 11

    BTW, Ziff, I’m quite surprised that you would disclose your sister’s transgressions in such a public forum. Are we not all imperfect? If I were a playground flasher, I would hope that my sibs would not publish that fact on the internet. There is yet hope that the Sawx will reach their tentacles out after Kiskilili and she will see the light and repent. Time is getting short, though, since Spring training starts in 10 days. Heck is the place where they don’t play baseball, and I wouldn’t want here to be danged there forever.

  12. 12

    Also, I think it would be good to add “for amusement” on what leads you to swear.

    I was just wondering this morning if it would be better if I stopped saying damn so much once I have my first baby (in two months).

    The first and last time I ever heard my husband say the f-word was when we got in a car accident, and it was so hilarious to hear him say it, that I couldn’t stop laughing. It sure was nice to shake off the shock of the wreck by laughing at my husband (though he has admitted to me he likes to swear a lot when he is by himself).

    The one reason I think swearing is “bad” is because I think it lowers the quality of conversation. I do think a habit of sincere swearing is crude and demonstrates a sort of base quality.

  13. 13

    As a bit of a tangent here, I object to the words “vulgar” or “vulgarity” when used to describe swearing. This is done sometimes, but think about the cultural implications. “Vulgar,” of course, is an English version of the Latin word that means non-aristocratic. That is, the word in its earliest meaning, a meaning that still isn’t dead, means “things that poor people do.”

    I’m sure that there are plenty of poor people in the world who swear. But, well, there are plenty of rich people who do, too. For those who object to swearing, is the reason because it makes educated people seem more like less-educated, poorer people? If so, that’s the rank prejudice of classism. This kind of prejudice is sometimes explicitly offered among Mormons as a reason for avoiding the use of swear words. For example, I’ve heard a number of talks, given by speakers at various ecclesiastical levels, that revolve around the idea that swearing reveals a limited vocabulary. Which is, of course, a bad thing because it means that the speaker is poor or uneducated — which is nasty or something. But a moment’s reflection quickly confirms that these kinds of attitudes are fundamentally un-Christian.

    I don’t mind if people don’t like swearing. It’s an aesthetic and cultural preference, and I’m not about to dictate on either dimension. But, please, let’s not base our objections on irrational hatreds of or prejudices toward the poor or the uneducated.

  14. 14

    I don’t like the casual use of the Lord’s name, but I heard an interesting perspective from a talk show host who is a religious Jew and was defending his occasional (but too frequent for some listeners’ ears) use of “God” or “Oh, God” as an interjection. His argument was a) “God” isn’t God’s name, and b) the commandment against taking the Lord’s name in vain refers to doing evil in God’s name, or doing evil while purporting to be religious. Not to justify throwing around “God” like it’s linguistic filler, but it was an interesting way to think about it, I thought. (And I suppose it only applies to “God,” as “Jesus Christ” actually is his name.)

    I tried really hard to remove “crap” from my vocabulary, and I’ve found that now I just say “poop” a lot. I’m not sure how much more refined that is, but I know I’d rather hear that from my kids than “cwap.” (For a while I was trying to replace “crap” with “crikey,” and my one-year-old started saying “cwikey,” which was pretty darn cute, but for some reason “crikey” just hasn’t taken off in our household to the same extent “poop” has. Probably because nobody knows what a crikey is.)

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    re: #12.

    Our daughter said the f-word a couple of weeks ago. It was completely innocent and out of context, and her matter-of-fact way of saying it was so funny.

    We were singing the Divine Name Game, and someone said Chuck. She ended up singing “Chuck Chuck bo buck, Banana fana fo …”. You get the picture. I was laughing for five minutes.

  17. 17

    When my friend, a Mormon who is dating a non-Mormon, asked her to tone down her language and specifically using God’s name in vain, she said, “But I’m using it like a prayer! You know, like, “Oh God, this is unbelievable!”

    Somehow, we weren’t convinced.

  18. 18

    Who are the Red Sox again? A league of tiddly-wink players, something like that?

    I guess I’m danged to heck. 😈 The true root of my apostasy becomes apparent . . .

  19. 19

    I’m about to utter the most vulgar, the most profane, the most lowdown and disgusting thing this blog has ever witnessed. I speak, of course, of a Boy’s Life joke.

    Kiskilili, you might be interested to know that baseball is in the Old Testament, Gen 1:1. “In the big inning . . .”

  20. 20

    Also, since I’m already probably attracting lighting, I might as well go ahead and provide this link to a baseball game between the Bethlehem Braves and the Jerusalem Giants. It’s pretty funny, if you don’t mind some mildly sacreligious humor. Example:

    Abraham up to the plate now. Probably up here to sacrifice. Infield drawn in for the patriarch, and now there’s some action in the Bethlehem bullpen. I can’t quite make out the back of his robe – it is! Big number 10, Moses. Just called up from the burning bush league. Already gaining a reputation for that lightning fast pick off move, reminding those runners that “Thou! Shalt not steal!”

  21. 21

    Thanks for that, Mark. That’s hilarious!

    It seems like there should be some uniquely Mormon contribution. How about this as a first attempt? “Nephi takes his lead off third. He’s already made two attempts to steal home, both thwarted by foul balls. Laban, the catcher, is guarding the plate. Here’s the pitch! It’s called a ball as Nephi comes roaring down the baseline. He dives for the plate! He collides with Laban, and Laban is down. His teammates gather. They’re saying he’s dead! Nephi has slain Laban to get to the plate!”

  22. 22

    I don’t mind any of the regular swears, though living in Utah I hardly ever hear God’s name, even from the lips of non-LDS. I think the F word is very disrespectful of that act (although it can sometimes be fun in the bedroom). I really can’t stand the terrible ones for female anatomy, as either C word makes me pretty upset . Most people who aren’t religious are smart enough to never, ever, use either of those words. I also can’t stand the N word (racial slur) or any equivalent for any other ethnic group. To me, those are the real swear words–the real taboos. “Damn” or “hell” are just the same as “crap.”

  23. 23

    Most excellent, Ziff.

    Since this is about swearing, we ought to be able to get some mileage out of putting J. Golden Kimball in the role of baseball manager, like Tom Hanks character in A League of Their Own.

  24. 24

    What about the Hosannahs that rang out in joyous celebration?

    I admit – I have on occasion used the f-word when I’ve seen Bill Belicheat’s face. And I took great glee in taunting him on TV with a 7-letter orificial term when he left with a second remaining.

  25. 25

    It’s interesting to me that just about everybody on this thread has spoken about swearing in terms of their personal reaction to it, rather that in an abstarct sense of right and wrong. I believe that is the correct approach.

    The English language is a wonderful thing, and it changes over time. What was socially acceptable a hundred years ago may not be acceptable now, and it is good for us to keep that in mind. Thomas Sharp was the editor of the Warsaw Signal, which often took strong anti-LDS positions. I love it that Joseph Smith sometimes referred to him as Thom-ass. And Ardis has documented that BY sometimes liked to invite people to kiss his, in his correspondence. BY and Heber C. Kimball used to say things from the pulpit all the time that listeners today would consider to be remarkably crude, but back then didn’t raise an eyebrow.

  26. 26

    It’s cultural too, isn’t it? I’ve been told that Australia, for example, someone can get up to the pulpit and complain, “Oh hell, I left my damn scriptures on my chair.” and have it be perfectly normal.
    (of course, I heard this second hand. I may be completely mistaken.)

  27. 27

    The thing is, RT, is that my ex-husband really WAS stupid, and really DID say cuss words because more suitable adjectives were not part of his vocabulary. Did you know that the F-word can be used as every single part of speech? I got really tired of hearing it instead of more suitable words, like “Large” or “annoying.”

  28. 28

    Ann, interesting point. Would it have been better, worse, or about the same if he had instead used the word “aardvark” as his single, multipurpose mot juste? “Aardvark that aardvarking aardvark of a mother-aardvarker off my lawn, you aardvark!”

  29. 29

    I’m relieved to discover I’m not the only LDS person who swears on a daily basis–thanks for the guilt mitigation πŸ™‚

    When my favorite uncle was trying to stop swearing, he’d say “Got down, sat on a bench” really fast and with feeling. Can’t say it really was any different than what it substituted for!

  30. 30

    Janet, maybe your favorite uncle was my scoutmaster, because he said the same thing at the appropriate time, e.g. after hitting his hand with the mallet while pounding in tent stakes. His other favorite (and one which got me grounded when I repeated it at home), was “Some Beach”.

  31. 31

    For the record, the F word is not used as a conjunction, interjection, or pronoun.

    Sorry. As an English teacher, I had to nitpick!

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    great poll ziff… I feel a lot less guilty now (being in such good company).

    every additional year I am a mother I find I swear more and more.
    I used to be such a sweet and clean mouthed lady, back when I was childless.

  34. 34

    When I was a teenager, and also while I was at BYU, I found that mild swearing was an entertaining way of being rebellious and pushing people’s buttons. I remember telling my younger sisters that I’d changed my name to “Helen Dam.”

    I don’t know if I’ve become ridiculously oversensitive, but these days I have to admit that I find it a bit jarring when I hear people around me doing it. Maybe it’s because I associate it with really angry people, and situations involving really angry people usually stress me out. Or maybe it’s just because most of the people I hang out with don’t swear much, so I notice it more when it happens.

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    I think you are probably correct to observe that there might be something a little juvenile and rebellious about the use of profanity. I amused myself all through high school by referring to my French teacher (when she wasn’t within earshot) as Mydamn teacher.

  37. 37

    I just found this thread by following a link from another blog. I was raised by a Marine. The terms of endearment he used to refer to his kids and and later his grandkids were various swear words. I don’t really think you could call it profanity when it was an expression of love. Anyway, I have been desensitized to the use of swear words when used in casual conversation.

    I am sensitive to words being used forcefully, whether it’s fetch, dang, or sugar (my grandmother’s favorite) or there FCC taboo counterparts. For me it’s not the words, but the thought behind those words that is profane.

    For musement is right. The only time I ever heard my mother use the F word was in a joke about Mikey Mouse. It wouldn’t have worked with any other word.

    The F word can most certainly be used as a pronoun. I bet if I presented the problem to some of my friends they could come up with proper usage as both a conjunction and preposition.

  38. 38

    Is the use of the word “god” really taking the lord’s name in vain? We call him God, because he is one, but that’s not what Joseph Smith taught about his name. My name isn’t dad, but that’s what my kids call me.

    And what does it really mean to take the Lord’s name in vain. In wikipedia someone has stated it means “This commandment is to never take the name of God in a vain, pointless or insincere oath.” Is saying “My God!” an oath? I’ve heard others state that it means that once we have taken upon us his name (baptism, becoming saved, etc.) that if we don’t live up to his expectations then we have taken his name in vain. Traditionally it has meant not to use the name of God in an irreverent or disrespectful manner.

    I guess that it doesn’t bother me so much to hear the word god, like it does when someone uses Jesus Christ as an explicative. Is that because the usage has become so common? Maybe. Who knows?

    With regards to other swear words, unless language is used to incite hate and bigotry then I’m not too bothered by it. But in my opinion, racial slurs are always worse that f–k.

  39. 39

    Oh how I wish I could prove I just submitted every poll and read every single post, but it’s oh so late and I need to wake up in 5 hours to go to church.

    I do have a couple comments to make though.

    My girlfriend doesn’t believe that any word should be classified as a “swear word.” That is an interesting point of view which I have admired in the past in adults (myself being 18 now), due to the fact that it seems they were much more openminded and I think more mature. It bothers me a little when she swears in Portuguese because I understand and she does it so much with her friends, but I’m growing to accept it. She humoured me for over a year but after a recent argument she’s decided to start swearing in English. Since I’m one of the only people she speaks English with hopefully my example will rub off on her.

    I made an observation last year regarding the intensity of words’ meanings varying by region. Where I’m from in Eastern Canada I use the word “hell” quite freely and frankly don’t see what’s wrong with that, but “pissed” (as in “pissed off”) seems to be more taboo. I spent some time in Russia with some members from Utah and Arizona and learned that it was the opposite for them and had complaints behind my back of my use of the word “hell.” Interesting. I haven’t spent enough time back home yet to know whether or not I’ll offend anybody as I think I’ve become more comfortable using “pissed.”

    I personally am desensitized from all swearing, I believe. I have even begun to show my Dad stand-up comedy sets without even realizing the profanity contained therein until after starting them. I can watch a movie and the next day not be able to recall what level of profanity was used. Living in the place that I have with so few members increases exposure to such words.

    I went through a brief phase where I said “shit” and I may have typed the f word a few times on rap forums around the age of 13 or 14. But since stopped that. It seems my 14 brother has fallen into the same thing, I just hope that it was just a phase for him as it was for me. The worst thing is that I heard him slip a couple profanities out with me when I was back for Christmas and he apologized for them, but know that he must use them freely with non-member friends. Oh well, at least I’m a good example to him.

    This comment is quite random but it’s just coming out as it comes into my mind. If you haven’t stopped reading I have a couple more thoughts.

    I commonly use words such as: frig, frik, freak, flip, fish, and crap to express myself. I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a complaint about them. Just thought I’d throw ’em up here for some of you oldies who might not be as exposed to young people.

    I really don’t understand why, of all the words censored on television in the US and Canada, “bitch” is allowed. I assume it’s got something to do with a national dog association or something. But that it one of those words I don’t say except in extreme circumstances. I think it’s a little disturbing personally that that’s acceptable and could appear on any channel at anytime. Oh well, I think TV is generally a waste of time and have commited to not turning it on for the next month until I head back to Canada.

    Sorry if I’ve bored anybody.

  40. 40

    Heh–if we were deterred by longwindedness, we’d never be able to tolerate ourselves! πŸ˜‰ Welcome to ZD!

    I like an occasional “damn” or “hell” to give punch to a statement, but I try to use them infrequently enough that they have punch when I do. (It would actually make more sense to me if “heaven” were a swear word than “hell.”)

    But “cr*p” and “sh*t” both I’m too disgusted by to use; I have a personal problem with imagining my possessions or projects as excrement. I’m prudish that way; most of the time I’d rather not be thinking about excrement.

    In the past sometimes I’ve regularly relied on “zut” or “zut alors” as my standard expression of disappointment. I’m thinking maybe I should switch to “blast”–it has a nice ring to it.

  41. 41

    Where are you from Kiskilili? I’m from Canada and am quite familiar with zut. πŸ˜› I think I used to even play a game at school by that name. Haha. (A French school.)

  42. 42

    Well, I like to tell people I was a foundling who was raised by centaurs in an unspecified forested area of northern Europe, but in fact I’m a homegrown Utah Valley girl, born in California, and currently transplanted to Massachusetts. I just picked up “zut” from high school French courses ’cause I think it’s a fun word. πŸ™‚

  43. 43

    I like to save certain words for times of extreme distress, etc. A friend uses every imaginable word during daily conversation. To me that reduces the impact of using them. If you swear all the time, what do you use when you’re really upset? I’ve been on this earth for nearly 5 decades and I can still remember the first time I heard my mom swear. We ran, and we ran fast!!! By keeping some words in reserve, I don’t have to raise my voice for someone to know I’m mad or upset. Thus I can whisper something and still get the impact. However, I don’t feel any impact when I’m by myself, just when I’m around someone.

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