This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Well sh, would you look at that, a linguist from England has created maps comparing the use of naughty words across the United States and there are some strong regional differences.
Please excuse my language, it appears I should have taken a look at the great sh/crap divide before I jumped in here. Utah is most definitely a "crap" state. I didn't mean it like that. Ugh.
OK, let's try this again.
Jack Grieve, a linguistics professor at Aston University, is interested in studying the regional differences in language. To get at this subject, he started diving into nearly a billion geotagged tweets collected from October 2013 to November 2014 by Diansheng Guo, a researcher at the University of South Carolina.
Grieve identified the use of swearwords by each county in the continental United States (sorry, Hawaii and Alaska) and then divided them by all of the words tweeted from those locales. In the end, he had a sort-of per capita use of foul language from coast to coast.
Sounds like a hell of a lot of work doesn't it?
That word, "hell," along with "damn," "b" and "sh," are used most frequently in the South, a swath that begins in eastern Texas and extends up through Virginia. The Rocky Mountains, Great Plains and Midwest were on the low end for use of those curses. Utah ranked in the lowest category, though it appears those living in Salt Lake and Davis counties aren't as unfamiliar with "damn" as the rest of the Beehive State.
Utah ranks high on faux swearwords such as "darn," "gosh" and "crap."
It makes sense to see regional differences in cussing, because there are regional differences in all kinds of language, according to Randy Eggert, an assistant professor in the University of Utah's Department of Linguistics who just happens to be an expert in taboo words.
You read that right, the U. of frickin' U, has a swearing sage.
But, alas, Grieve didn't search out uses of frickin' or what Eggert anecdotally says is Utah's favorite almost-expletive "heck." Grieve sticks mostly with the big ones. You can see his work here, but be warned: He is less squeamish than The Salt Lake Tribune when it comes to bad words.
And his study doesn't indicate how often an area had a swearword in its tweets. This is only a comparison of the frequency between places.
Eggert says Grieve's reliance on tweets is interesting, because it essentially eliminates "automatic swearing," those times when you accidentally drop a plate of nachos and blurt out an f-bomb.
Tweeted curses are what he calls "strategic swearing." When people type "ahole" into a tweet, they mean it (at least at that moment). And in this format, the writer has at least a general idea of who may see a profanity-laced missive.
So what we have here is a look at where it is more socially acceptable to say these words, and in that case it's no surprise that a religious state such as Utah and a Bible Belt state like Tennessee would rank low on the really nasty words like the f-bomb.
The use of this king of curses is high on each coast and, interestingly, along the southern border, but its use drops off drastically for in mid-America.
The map changes drastically when Grieve searched for the mother of all f-words (you know the one). The strong national dichotomy is replaced with a few hot spots here and there and a bunch of middle ground. On the high use side is Vermont, southern parts of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. At the lowest end are four Utah counties Utah, Wasatch, Summit and Juab.
Another interesting split is the use of whore and slut. The maps are relatively similar except when it comes to the West. Slut registered at the high end in Utah, Nevada and parts of Washington, but whore was rarely used in those places.
That one surprises Eggert.
"My sense was 'slut' was falling out of use," he says, relying on an informal poll of his students each semester. He teaches an online course on taboo words and usually has more than 150 students, most of whom are comfortable with the use of salty language.
He knows Utahns are not as likely to use profanity as, say Californians, but he has found that students are well versed on the words, when they are often used and can rank them from worst (think the n- or c-word) to the tamest (heck).
"You don't have to swear," he says, "to know how to swear."
And it appears that Utahns are less likely to swear at least on Twitter.