In 1972, comedian George Carlin delivered a legendary monologue that pushed the boundaries of stand-up comedy and challenged the taboo on profanity. His “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” skit was so controversial at the time that Carlin was himself arrested, and the broadcast led to a Supreme Court ruling that changed how speech was regulated on TV.
In society, value judgments are made about people all the time, from our physical appearance to the way we shake hands. Yet evidence suggests that these same calls are being made about those who use profanity in conversation.
Whether we mean them in anger or use them casually in our everyday vocabulary, those ‘seven words’ are becoming more of a fixture in our lives. A Business Insider report found that the average American now uses 80-90 curse words per day - which works out at around five an hour. But where in the U.S. can you find people who swear more than anywhere else? Our analysts at WordTips have the answers.
To find out which swear words are most popular across the country, we analyzed tweets from all 50 U.S. states and 320 cities. We collected data on a variety of the most commonly-used profanities and variations of those words and matched them up with the tweet’s location to see which places have the coarsest language.
The pandemic years (2020 and 2021) were a stressful time for people in the U.S. and the wider world. Research from Storyful found that profanities rose by 41% on Facebook from 2019 to 2021 and by 27% on Twitter.
Real-world events, from the George Floyd protests to the bitterly-contested 2020 election to the January 6th Capitol attack, caused huge public anger on social media, events that themselves changed the course of American history.
Have you ever wondered if some curse words are more popular in different parts of the country or whether some phrases have more prevalent uses on the East Coast than the West? After all, regional slang is common, and most states have their own vernacular.
Our research found that 15 states use ‘shit’ as their swear of choice, more than ‘fuck,’ which is most popular in 13 states. We can see something of an east/west divide in our data, as the majority of states in the South and East of the U.S. use ‘shit,’ while three of the four states in the Pacific time zone (and Hawaii) prefer ‘fuck’.
People in the Peachtree State have plenty to get wound up about. Atlanta’s notorious traffic bottlenecks; Hot and humid summers; Horseflies in the summer; Super Bowl LI. All of this makes Georgia, according to our data at least, the sweariest U.S state. With 48 curse words per 1000 tweets, more people swear here than in Maryland (46 swears) and New Mexico (45 swears).
Meanwhile, in the North Star State, the people of Minnesota are much tamer with their language. They use just 15 swear words per 1000 tweets, just less than West Virginia, who uses 16. Minnesota ranked inside the top five of a CNBC quality of life index in 2021, thanks to its environmental quality and health care system.
Whether we agree or not, there are some names that have been unfairly given negative stereotypes in society, most notably Karens, Beckys and Chads. When it comes to profanity, however, our research indicates that people named Kai are the rudest.
With 64 curse words for every 1000 tweets, Kais have by far the dirtiest mouths on the internet. It has been growing in popularity as a name in recent years and was America’s 71st most popular boys’ name in 2021. Meanwhile, with just 9 profanities per 1000 posts, people called Kimberly swear the least on Twitter.
Home to more than 6 million people, Atlanta is one of America’s largest and most diverse cities. However, it also has a dirty mouth, according to our data. 56 tweets in every 1000 posts from the city contain a curse word, making it the country’s most foul-mouthed city. It has slightly more X-rated messages than Stockton, California, with 53 per 1000.
Meanwhile, it is Minneapolis natives who swear the least, with just 17 curse words per 1000 tweets. Surprisingly, Twitter discourse from New York was surprisingly safe-for-work. Despite the stress of living in one of the world’s megacities, just 19 posts per 1000 from the Big Apple contain profanity.
It’s a word synonymous with popular culture. Martin Scorsese used it 506 times in his script for ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ in 2013. J.D Salinger gained notoriety for his use of the word in ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ which became one of the most banned books of the 20th century. And Steve Jones, guitarist for Sex Pistols, will forever be known for the outrage caused by swearing on British television.
‘Fuck’ has transcended its sexual connotation and become mainstream. It can be used both positively and negatively, with phrases for a range of situations. It is used in abbreviated forms (WTF, STFU, etc.). It is a versatile profanity and popular all over the world.
Our research found that it is the most popular curse word online, with 11.62 uses per 1000 tweets, more than ‘Shit,’ which was used 10 times per 1000 posts. A study from Keele University has found that swearing in the right circumstances can increase a person’s pain threshold, with the f-word being most effective at reducing anguish in tough situations.
Whether you find swear words coarse and vulgar or use them casually in conversation, there is no doubt that profanity is becoming more common and acceptable in our society. While you still can’t say those seven words on TV, we’ve moved beyond the age of arresting people for their choice of language, as George Carlin was in 1972.
Social media discourse is notoriously hot-headed, especially in politically divisive times such as these. Medical research continues to find a link between apps such as Twitter and Facebook and poor mental health. Whether your profanity is harmless in conversation or your words are deliberately meant to offend, remember to think carefully about the language you use online.
To discover each state's favorite swear word, we gathered tweets from every state and the top 320 most populated cities in the U.S. We filtered the tweets by considering only tweets that were written in English and allowing a maximum of 1 tweet per user per day. We then collected data on a selection of swear words (and some variations), including:
Then, to obtain information about swear word usage on different dates and times, we retrieved tweets from the 50 most populated cities in the U.S., from 2021-01-01 until 2022-06-01. We applied the same exclusions noted above before analyzing the swear word usage. All times in this dataset are in UTC - 5 (U.S. Eastern Time).
We combined the results with the 500 most popular names by gender for babies born in the U.S. in 2021 to discover which names swear the most and the least. The name was extracted from the user display name of each Twitter account.
The frequencies in this data are based on unique appearances - each swear word can only be counted once on each tweet towards the total number of appearances. So, if a tweet repeats the same swear word 4 times, it will only count 1 time towards the total.
The data was collected in June 2022.