So a friend of mine told me that a study has found that people who swear more are often smarter than their more polite counterparts. Not wanting to appear stupid, I said, “That’s Bull####,” straight away (which I figured covered my bases either way).
I didn’t think much more about it until I saw a link to the same study online a few days later. Here is the link. Swearing more is actually a sign of having a better vocabulary, study finds.
Now this was the third or fourth time I had now heard of this study and all from pretty intelligent and reliable sources (to be fair, I don't think anyone actually believed the findings, but were more bringing it up as a point of conversation) so I decided to actually read the article.
Well that was a disappointment. The article describes a study of less than 50 people (an awfully small sample size to begin with) which found a correlation between how many normal words people could generate in fixed interval and how many swear words they could generate. This is a thoroughly underwhelming and predictable result, suggesting that people that have a more versatile conventional range of language enjoy a similar ‘advantage’ with profanities. It specifically states at the end of the article that the study makes no finding of any link between a person’s vocabulary and the frequency with which people swear in general conversation.
Reading that caveat at the end of the text made the article's title seem disingenuous at best, if not deliberately misleading and sensationalist. I tried to give the author the benefit of the doubt, as the article also mentioned that this study was part of a wider set of experiments, so I looked into that, but the full study could only conclude that, “…the ability to generate taboo language is not an index of overall language poverty.”
Using this as evidence for an article titled “Swearing more is actually a sign of having a better vocabulary,” is just bad journalism and assuming the title represents the science accurately lets these hacks get away with it. Unfortunately both behaviours are too common. Another recent example was the fallacious story about the Australian Army Chaplains being forced to change their hat badges. As my friend, Erica, often points out to rednecks who are afraid that refugees will stop them celebrating Christmas, “If something seems to be crazy to be true, it probably is.”
The next time someone tells you a crazy fact or scientific finding, I suggest you see if you can verify it.