Modern times value self-expression more, and swearing proves it. In 1972, George Carlin introduced a comedy routine known as “seven words you can never say on TV,” which mocked the restrictions of network television and the niceties of American society. A new study from San Diego State University has investigated the usage of swearing in American literature and found that society is embracing freedom of expression and individualism much more today than in decades past.
Psychology professor Jean M. Twenge teamed up with graduate student Hannah VanLandingham and University of Georgia psychologist W. Keith Campbell to analyze the content of books published between 1950 and 2008. The tens of thousands of books examined for the study also included books cataloged in the Google Books database.
The researchers searched for the usage of George Carlin’s seven words. The team reported a steady rise in the appearance of these particular words throughout the texts. The study revealed that American authors used the controversial terms 28 times more often in the mid-2000s than in the early 1950s.
“Forty-five years after George Carlin’s routine, you can say those words on television -and in books,” said Twenge.
The findings of the study suggest that these words have become much less forbidden over time, according to the authors. One possible explanation is that people now value freedom of self-expression more than they did several decades ago.
This conclusion coincides with previous research which established that today’s American society places higher importance on individualism. Twenge said that this characteristic is especially prominent in young people.
“Millennials have a ‘come as you are’ philosophy, and this study shows one of the ways they got it: The culture has shifted toward more free self-expression,” she said.
The results of the study are published in the journal SAGE Open.