Swear words on Twitter

by on February 25, 2014 at 5:08 am in Data Source, Uncategorized, Web/Tech | Permalink

In daily life it is thought that between 0.5% and 0.7% of the words we use are swearwords, but the proportion on the site is roughly twice this, at 1.15%. According to this study, about one in every 13 tweets contains a swearword of some kind.

Intriguingly, swearing also seems to be an early-week thing. Tweets become more and more likely to contain a swearword as the day progresses, perhaps reflecting the accumulation of things we have to swear about, and peak profanity is reached between midnight and 1.30am, suggesting that people who are awake at that time are, let’s say, the least inhibited. Yet Friday, Saturday and Sunday are consistently the least sweary days of the week.

Please note there are specific swear words (with data) at this link.  And there are lulls during lunch time.

For the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.

1 ummm February 25, 2014 at 5:18 am

autism crisis: pencils are not aligned

2 Doug February 25, 2014 at 5:19 am

“In daily life it is thought that between 0.5% and 0.7% of the words we use are swearwords, but the proportion on the site is roughly twice this, at 1.15%.”

This seems consistent. Cursing is an effective way to pack an emotional punch or convey a strong feeling while being parsimonious with the 140 character limit.

3 nonymous February 25, 2014 at 6:47 am

This should confirm that twitter addiction works like any other addiction, as a mechanism to relieve pain. People deal with the pain of their frustrating lives when they need it the most: mon to thu, evenings, etc…

It would be interesting to know if heavy cursers are also heavy users (the article doesn’t say).

4 Vernunft February 25, 2014 at 6:10 am

I didn’t see any control for the demographics of Twitter. Apples to apples?

5 Bill February 25, 2014 at 7:34 am

+1 In addition to extrapolating across a population without controlling for the age of the twitterer, I would be interested in male v. female cursing, regional cursing, and tweets emanating from religious communities, as well as the content context in which the curse appears (more cursing on political subjects, for example).

And, wtf, how did they treat abbreviations.

6 james February 25, 2014 at 7:59 am

Are they extrapolating anything? I don’t seem them using Twitter to make claims about the total population.

7 Finch February 25, 2014 at 9:52 am

In the excerpted paragraph they aren’t extrapolating. But they are comparing twitter with the normal population.

The obvious explanation for more swearing on twitter is that twitter users are disproportionately young adults, and young adults swear more than children and old people. I’m not sure this really is the explanation, but it’s the first thing you’d want to investigate. Maybe it’s nothing to do with the medium and everything to do with being 26?

8 Rahul February 25, 2014 at 10:06 am


9 Vernunft February 25, 2014 at 7:48 pm

Age is not even the relevant demographic difference I had in mind, but it’s a good point. Age too, then!

Twitter’s demo is not…representative. So to speak.

10 Finch February 26, 2014 at 9:27 am

Yeah, I wasn’t sure that age was _the_ factor either. I’m not even sure young adults swear more than the old, that was just my impression.

But you have it: twitter demographics are different and you need to remove that effect before the measurement is interesting to me.

11 Yancey Ward February 25, 2014 at 11:06 am

What is this Twitter thing? And get the f*&K off my lawn!!!

12 Jay February 25, 2014 at 7:06 am

Extending from “swear” words, does Paul Krugman call people names for disagreeing with him as frequently in speech as he does on his blog?

13 Jay February 25, 2014 at 7:21 am

I will add, having played tens (if not hundreds) of thousand of hours of poker online and in person, poker players online type vile messages far more frequently than the frequency of vile comments made in a live poker room. Humans are cowards. It is a lot easier to be a Paul Krugman asshole in the safety of your plush Princeton office than face to face with the person you are calling names*.

*I’d replace Krugman with Mankiw, but I am hard pressed to find references of Mankiw calling other people names.

14 Axa February 25, 2014 at 8:24 am

I’m more polite in the web, I can reread and rewrite if necessary. There’s no delete or Crtl+Z for the real world =(

15 CBBB February 25, 2014 at 8:41 am

Both Krugman and Mankiw can be assholes just of different breeds. I much prefer the Krugman type, Mankiw may not expicitly call people names but everything he writes is dripping of the condecense of some pompous Harvard professor looking down his nose at everyone.

16 loveactuary February 25, 2014 at 7:18 am

I’m with Vernunft … is that stat age-adjusted?

17 Brian Donohue February 25, 2014 at 8:40 am


18 Axa February 25, 2014 at 8:49 am

Twitter related: writting stupid sh*t using swear words may land you in jail in Spain. War onthe least inhibited people!!! http://elpais.com/elpais/2014/02/04/inenglish/1391513715_931671.html

19 Turkey Vulture February 25, 2014 at 8:56 am

Well shit.

20 David Bley February 25, 2014 at 9:27 am

I tend to unfollow tweeters who use swearwords or retweet those who do. I am not a prude but I try to limit my exposure.

21 PD Shaw February 25, 2014 at 9:43 am

Swears words are inefficient in tweets.

22 PD Shaw February 25, 2014 at 9:43 am

Swear words are #@%$# inefficient in tweets.

23 Mark Thorson February 25, 2014 at 9:40 am

I wonder if the late-night swearing is related to alcohol use. Someday soon we’ll have the data to answer that question.

24 prior_approval February 25, 2014 at 9:48 am

Because as predicting Truman’s loss two generations ago showed, nothing is more reliable than a self-selected sample.

25 Mark Thorson February 25, 2014 at 11:00 am

It won’t be self-selected if the data on alcohol use comes from a sensor in your smartphone.

26 Jon February 25, 2014 at 4:48 pm

I’m wondering if Saturday and Sunday are the lowest in raw volume/swearwords, or if only by percentage.

There’s a possibility that the actual number increases, the percentage of swearwords actually decreases due to the huge increase in non-swearing tweets overwhelming any kind of increase.

27 L February 28, 2014 at 5:14 pm

My wager would be the type of people who are free from midnight to 1:30am on a work night are also the type of people who are apt to be otherwise busy on Friday and Saturday nights.

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