The long-held belief that people who curse a lot do so because they have a limited vocabulary has been refuted.
It turns out that people who know a lot of cuss words know a lot of words in general. They just choose to use the four-letter ones.
"It is a common assumption that people who swear frequently are lazy or do not have an adequate vocabulary," said researchers Kristin Jay of Marist College in New York and Timothy Jay of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. According to this theory, prolific cussers don't know the specific word to use or don't want to make the effort to think of it, so they fall back on a one-size-fits-all vulgarity.
But the Jays (it's not clear if they're related) have published a study in the journal Language Sciences that challenges that argument.
They administered vocabulary tests in which subjects wrote down as many words as they could think of in various categories. For instance, words related to animals or words starting with the letter "a." Then they were told to do the same thing with profanities.
The Jays found a direct correlation between the two exercises. People who had long lists in one category had them in all categories — including curses. And subjects who knew fewer words in general also came up with shorter lists of naughty ones.
The Jays insist that they're not endorsing swearing, which, they point out, is frowned on in many societal and professional settings. They're just saying that when it comes to vocabulary, "fluency is fluency."
Or, to put it in layman's terms, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't. □