The end of the profanity taboo
Posted: 05 January 2020 12:07 AM   [ Ignore ]
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It’s long been accepted that using profanity in private is “normal”. It was no big deal when hot mics picked up taboo words spoken by politicians in circumstances that were intended to be private (e.g. Cheney’s “major league asshole” or Biden’s “big fuckin’ deal”.  Until fairly recently it was not at all common for it to be used in political broadcasts, speeches and interviews. Hell, bitch, damn, ass etc have occasionally been given an airing by politicians, but It seems to me that for shit and fuck, in the USA in 2019, the dam was broken or the ribbon was cut.

Donald Trump, Feb 2019, NYT interview
“You know, you had governors and senators, you know they were all good until I beat the shit out of them, O.K.?”

Donald Trump, Oct 2019, Campaign rally
“They know they can’t win an election so they are pursuing an illegal, invalid, and unconstitutional bullshit impeachment.”

Cory Booker, Aug 2019, Twitter
“Such a bullshit soup of ineffective words”

Beto O’Rourke, Aug 2019, to reporters
“Uh, what do you think? You know the shit he’s been saying. He’s been calling Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals. I don’t know. Like, members of the press: What the fuck?”

Rashida Tlaib, Jan 2019, addressing a MoveOn event
“Baby they don’t, because we’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the motherfucker!”

Trump has gone there before 2019: he had previously told a rally, in regard to China, “Listen you motherfuckers, we’re going to tax you 25 percent!” In 2016, he said, ‘I would bomb the shit out of ’em’.”

It seems that this year, others have got in on the act.

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Posted: 05 January 2020 07:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Here is Google ngrams data on various swear words. The data only goes to 2008, but it seems as if damn, shit, and fuck are the only ones that have been on the rise, and even these three may have leveled off. Nigger has been in pretty much constant and level use, while the others surged in the 1960s and then leveled off.

If you’re noticing a rise in use it could be accounted for by two things (and maybe more) that wouldn’t show up in this data:

1) A few major news outlets may have relaxed their standards. You may be seeing it more, but the uses by these outlets may be too few in absolute numbers to affect the overall data.

2) Politicians, who in the past may have refrained from their use, may feel freer to use these words in public. They may have discovered a lack of a backlash.

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Posted: 05 January 2020 10:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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And also the end of civility.

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Posted: 06 January 2020 03:27 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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"Here is Google ngrams data on various swear words. “

I am specifically talking about their use by politicians in contexts that would normally be considered formal (political broadcasts, speeches and interviews).

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Posted: 06 January 2020 04:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I did look for corpora of political speech, and while there are some good ones, they’re all of formal, prepared speeches and remarks. They don’t contain profanity at all--unsurprising. I’ll see if perhaps there are news-specific corpora. That would get closer; it would include the unscripted remarks, but also would capture non-political speech.

Relying on personal impressions is perilous in situations like this.

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Posted: 06 January 2020 06:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Relying on personal impressions is perilous in situations like this.

While that is, of course, a good general rule, it would be absurd to entertain seriously the idea that politicians were just as likely to curse in public decades ago as they are now.

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Posted: 06 January 2020 06:45 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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What is considered profane changes over time. I’m more interested in which words politicians feel free to use and which are still or newly taboo. Damn is a given. And I would expect fuck to appear more frequently, but still not all that often. I would expect nigger to be less common than decades ago.

Addition:

Oh, and it’s often the obvious, “of course it’s true” observations that are proven wrong by actual data. I think OP Tipping is likely correct, but it may very well be the case that politicians still rarely use profanity, but with the internet and iPhone cameras we just have more opportunities to observe it when they do. And because it’s still rare, we notice it all the more and think it’s more common than it actually is.

There is no doubt that public use of profanity in general has risen.

[ Edited: 06 January 2020 09:00 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 06 January 2020 09:43 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I would expect nigger to be less common than decades ago.

Actually, not that less common.

OED

A. n.
I. Senses referring to people.
1. A dark-skinned person of sub-Saharan African origin or descent; = Negro n. 1a.
This term is strongly racially offensive when used by a white person in reference to a black person. In written Black English and written representations of spoken Black English, however, there are usually not the same negative connotations. Recently the term has been reclaimed by some black speakers and used with positive connotations in various senses (esp. in the form nigga: see note in etymology, and senses A. 1c, A. 4, and A. 5). However, even among black speakers, use of the word is problematic because of its potential to give offence, as is clear from the following, from a black speaker:
1995 N.Y. Times 14 Jan. i. 7 The prosecutor, his voice trembling, added that the ‘N-word’ was so vile that he would not utter it. ‘It’s the filthiest, dirtiest, nastiest word in the English language,’ Mr. Darden said.
See also N-word n.
Thesaurus »

a. Used by people who are not black as a relatively neutral (or occasionally positive) term, with no specifically hostile intent. 

I’m curious would nigger be accurately termed as profanity?

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Posted: 06 January 2020 02:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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By a strict definition, it would not be profanity. But then neither would fuck or shit. Technically, profanity is blasphemous language. But in the general sense of a word that offends sensibility, it most certainly is.

Actually, not that less common.

I was thinking in the context of politicians.

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