My story about swearing — and how people seem to be doing more of it thanks to the lousy economy — went live this morning on MSNBC.com. According to Dr. Timothy Jay, professor of psychology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and author of several books on the subject, swearing is as old as time and crosses all cultures and socioeconomic boundaries. “Swear words are almost always about sex or religion in every language,” Jay told me in a telephone interview. “It depends on what the taboos are. In countries where religion is more powerful, you have more profanity, profane words that are stronger than ‘damn’ or ‘hell’ or ‘Jesus Christ’. There would be words like ‘Sacred mother’ or ‘Holy mother’s milk.’ In Asian cultures, you’ll have more ancestral allusions. In Japanese, for instance, there are words like ‘aunt f*cker’ and ‘sh*t grandma’.”
People who use what Jay calls “taboo words,” will do so about 80-90 times a day (out of a total of 15,000 to 16,000 words). His recent study found that 10 frequently used terms – among them hell, damn, Jesus Christ, and oh my god — account for roughly 80 percent of all swearing data. The f-word and its scatological partner-in-crime (hint: it rhymes with “snit”) appear to account for one third to one half of all the swearing episodes recorded in his recent study.
Speaking of swearing, today marks the last print edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, my hometown paper. An online edition will continue to operate, but it will be produced by a skeleton crew and much of the content (particularly lifestyle and features) will be provided by unpaid reader bloggers and outside sources like Cosmopolitan and Redbook (both published by Hearst). I’m happy that Hearst was willing to continue to publish in some form, but am mourning the loss of a great newspaper which was in business for nearly 150 years. Ironically, that’s just about how many editors, reporters, photographers, copy editors and news artists lost their jobs. R.I.P., Seattle P-I. #*&%^!