KERRY HUBARTT: Honestly, I think the study on swearing is, well, crap

Kerry Hubartt

So, the more a person uses profanity, the more honest they are?


That’s the conclusion of a study published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal in 2017 that I found in a Facebook post this week from an article on, a British news site launched by The Independent newspaper.

The study analyzing swearing in society was conducted by an international team of researchers led by Gilad Feldman of Maastricht University in the Netherlands. The Indy500 article included a link to the actual report on the study, complete with graphs, charts, survey questions and references. The study included questions posed to a group of 276 participants, such as “How often do you curse?” and “What might be the reasons you curse?” There was also a long list of questions about mood, personality, integrity, honesty and other factors that might be related to the use of profanity. The participants were asked to list their favorite swear words and to keep track of their everyday use of profanity.

Profanity, in the framework of the study, refers to “obscene language including taboo and swear words, which in regular social settings are considered inappropriate and in some situations unacceptable. It often includes sexual references, blasphemy, objects eliciting disgust, ethnic-racial-gender slurs, vulgar terms or offensive slang.”

The above definition reflects what I’ve always been taught about profanity. It’s bad. I’m from the old school where, like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story,” I’d likely get a bar of soap in my mouth if I used a bad word.

The study’s test subjects also completed a psychological survey designed to gauge their honesty, which the researchers intended to use to rank their likelihood for lying.

According to the study, “profanity is commonly related to the expression of emotions such as anger, frustration or surprise. The spontaneous use of profanity is usually the unfiltered genuine expression of emotions.”

In one part of the study, the researchers actually used Facebook in their research because it has been found that the world’s most dominant social network is “an extension of real-life social context, allowing individuals to express their actual selves.” Facebook profiles, it has been determined, “have been found to provide fairly accurate portrayals of their users’ personalities and behaviors.”

So the team analyzed 70,000 Facebook profiles to look for the presence of profanities and other “signifiers of honesty” online.

The overall study concluded that a higher rate of profanity use was associated with more honesty.

Does that mean I’m less honest because I don’t swear? Seriously? Obeying the teachings of my parents and my church makes me less prone to be honest and trustworthy? Using one vice (profanity) indicates I’m less likely to use another (lying)?

It’s a bit disconcerting, too, from my perspective that these study findings might be used to validate and perhaps encourage the use of profanity. Just what this society doesn’t need.

Kerry Hubartt is the former editor of The News-Sentinel.