American literature reflects how millennials swear more and believe in self-expression

Swear words are used more frequently in American literature says a new study. It reflect the cultural trend towards individualism and free expression, especially among millennials.

Millennials have a ‘come as you are’ philosophy and the culture has shifted toward freer self-expression.
Millennials have a ‘come as you are’ philosophy and the culture has shifted toward freer self-expression.(Shutterstock)

The use of swear words in American literature has steadily increased since the 1950s, according to a recent study. The new study by San Diego State University’s Jean M. Twenge focussed on seven swear words identified by American stand-up comedian George Carlin as ‘the seven words you can never say on television,’ during a 1972 stand-up routine.

“The increase in swear words in books is part of a larger cultural trend toward individualism and free expression,” said Twenge, also the author of the book, Generation Me. For the study, the team analysed the textual content from tens of thousands of books published between 1950 and 2008, and that have been catalogued by the Google Books database. Within this corpus, they searched for instances of Carlin’s seven notorious words (which can be easily found online).

They found a steadily rising trend of those words appearing in the books. In total, American authors used the seven risque words 28 times more often in the mid-2000s than the early 1950s, the study notes. “Forty-five years after George Carlin’s routine, you can say those words on television — and in books,” Twenge said.

The findings suggest that these words have become much less taboo over time, she said. One interpretation is that people today value free expression more than they did several decades ago. That dovetails with previous research which has found that American society is becoming increasingly individualistic. That characteristic is especially prominent in young people, Twenge said.


“Millennials have a ‘come as you are’ philosophy and this study shows one of the ways they got it: The culture has shifted toward freer self-expression,” she said. The study appears in the journal SAGE Open.
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