Generation F-Bomb: Profanity Goes Mainstream

By: Kelly Powell

profanityWhat the #$@%*is going on? It seems profanity has run rampant through the social thickets of our society. Swearing has become widespread in television, on the big screen, and has now become socially accepted within many workplaces. It is seemingly imbedded in our music, and in our everyday social interactions. Children often learn a four-letter word before they learn the alphabet.

Profanity is part of the human condition, and it is everywhere.

A national study conducted by the associated press revealed three-quarters of Americans said they encounter profanity in public frequently. The AP poll questioned 1,001 adults, and also concluded that 64% said they use the F-word regularly.

“Everyone uses swear words. It’s in our everyday conversations. It is overused, in my opinion. It’s like, How are you today? — F’ing great, thanks! This is now an accepted and normal response in many casual settings,” says University of Cincinnati Graduate Student, Kali Bales.

Every one has a potty mouth. Social media as we know it is human communication at an epic scale. It has been found that people post profanity regularly. Jack Grieve, a professor of forensic linguistics at Aston University in England, created what he calls “swear word maps” using 9 billion words derived from tweets on Twitter. The results reflected which curse words were the most popular by regions of the country. Ohio, for example, loves to drop the f-bomb the most, as do many other populous urban areas of the mid-west. In Southern states, along the coast, “damn” is more common, whereas the “c-word” was popular in the New England states.


Profanity has a colorful past. The use of profanity is not a new concept. Remarkably, some of these popular swear words have been around for more than a thousand years. Medieval literature expert, Melissa Mohr, traces humans’ use of naughty language back to Roman times in her book titled, A Brief History of Swearing. In our current stage of evolution, Mohr says most children know at least one swear word by the age of two.

Historically, vulgarity has been quite evident in our literary works. The works of Shakespeare is are full of profanities. Even the Bible includes passages that mention men who “eat their own dung, and drink their own piss.” (2 Kings 18:27 of the King James version) 

The “bad words” that we all use today each hold their own unique origins and beginnings. For example, the word “crap” comes from the last name of the British man who invented the toilet, Thomas Crapper.

The turning point. Acceptable swearing in popular culture was set in the late 1960’s as our social consciences shifted towards liberalisms, and civil liberties. The mere right to do something was a demanded privilege Freedom of speech is protected by the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution. However, certain categories of speech that are not entitled to First Amendment protection, including fighting words, and threats.

Dodging F-Bombs. The use of swear words in the entertainment industry over the years has now become routine, even expected. This has fueled the progression of the “profane train,” and sculpted the mindset of many young minds. This reality has certainly been reflected on the big screen where there has been a 10x increase in profanity between the 1940s and today. A pioneer of its time is the 1939 film, Gone with the Wind,  included the controversial line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” This movie is often accredited to be among the first to use profanity in a major American film. However, some films prior to 1935 were also known to have used strong language.

In 1971, the f-word was used for the first time in cinema, and still wins the prize of being the most popular profane word used in film making. The very first f-bomb in television history dropped was dropped by Charles Rocket in 1981 on “Saturday Night Live” during the final minutes of a show. It was in  reference to the “Who shot J.R.?” craze that swept the country at the time. Consequently, he was immediately fired from the show. In our modern landscape, a perfect example is the movie,

In the blockbuster, The Wolfe of Wall Street, the f-bomb (and other profanities) were dropped a whopping 798 times!

That is equivalent to 3.16 swear words per minute.

The Power of Profanity. It is now understood that profane words are directly connected to our emotions, and can evoke physiological processes in the body. Profanity can be emotionally, physiologically, and socially powerful. Bad words are treated separately than other words, and encoded differently in the brain.

Biologically speaking, profanity is driven by evolutionarily structures in the limbic system, deep in the brain. This system is responsible for emotional calls, shrieks, cries, and growls. This is something we share with primates and other mammals. People may be using curse words by instinct, rather than critical thought.

Profanity is unmatched its ability to incite violence, or provoke rage within our social structures. It has seemingly has infiltrated our culture, and created this crazy circus of vulgarity now marked as normal. The usage of profanity is obviously not a new concept, as its origins can be traced back 1000’s of years. However, the mainstreaming of profanity it is an everyday occurrence, and currently embodied throughout our public forums and leaders. This compels me to use another 4-letter word  for all those profanity lovers in our society: 


As they say, freedom of speech is great, but the right to remain silent might just be better!









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