Virginians Swear like Southerners, Gosh Darn It

Map credit: Strong Language
Map credit: Strong Language

In our never-ending quest to probe deeper into the political economy, sociology and cultural essence of Virginia than any other blog in the universe, we now turn our attention to an important cultural marker: curse words.

Posting in the Strong Language blog, Stan Carey has published maps showing the relative incidence in the use of 18 swear words based upon an 8.9-billion word corpus of geo-coded tweets. Some of the words represent the mildest form of profanity — “gosh” and “darn,” devised in the 19th century as substitutes for words considered profane. Other vulgarities refer to the human anatomy, bodily excretions and, of course, variations on the sex act.

Judging from the maps, Virginians belong to a sub-grouping that cuts a swath from Virginia to Texas, excluding Appalachia and the Florida peninsula. This grouping overlays the Bible Belt but is not synonymous with it. Appalachia has very different swearing patterns. In word after word, Virginians follow the same pattern as other Southerners. (Northern Virginia, which is culturally distinct from the rest of the state is an outlier for some words.)

Virginians east of the mountains are far more likely than other Americans to use the word “bitch” and far less likely to use the word “crap” in their tweets. We strongly favor the word “damn” but are lukewarm in the use of “darn.” We are partial to the words “pussy” and “shit” but far less inclined to describe someone as a “slut” or a “whore.”

One exception to the pattern: Virginians belong to a linguistic block that runs from Virginia north through Philadelphia, New York and Boston in their proclivity to use the word “fuckboy.” Clearly, I am getting old and out of touch because I don’t recall ever having heard the term, much less having ever used it.

And one interesting aside: Despite their cultural conservatism and relative lack of sympathy for gay rights, Southerners are far less likely to use the word “faggot” as a term of opprobrium. Virginia is a border state in that respect, with the religious Southside of the state less likely to use it and the tolerant, pluralistic Northern Virginia more likely to use it. I would hypothesize that the more taboo the “other F word” is, the greater its shock value and the more the reason to use it.

As attitudes evolve, so do the taboos surrounding certain words. The old Victorian-era vulgarities are losing their sting, but new taboos are emerging, such as the “N” word and other descriptors of race, ethnicity and personal identity. Slowly but steadily, PC values are replacing Victorian values.


(Hat tip: Larry Gross)

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  1. Wow growing up in Carroll County Virginia I am a little surprised that Western Virginia & NC, SC and Eastern Kentucky and Tennessee and Southern West Virginia do not use the word that much. And in the states where the word is used in all those Southern states were the ones where slavery was most prominent. I guess those mountain Scots/Irish were/are pretty good folks.

  2. “Northern Virginia, which is culturally distinct from the rest of the state is an outlier for some words.”

    Words with two or more syllables perhaps?

    1. Yeah, “fuckboy” has two syllables!

  3. So where the economy is best we see more use of curse words like Damn? Hmmmm.

  4. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    I mean you are getting old – aren’t we all – but the most likely reason you haven’t heard the term is because you don’t know a whole lot of Black women.

    I think the reason f@ggot never caught on in the deeper South is because there was never a need for it. Pussy and b!tch are already in wide use when a fella wants to question another fella’s masculinity and queer/gay/homo is already enough of a slur in the region there’s no need to bring in another word.

  5. LarrytheG Avatar

    heckfire and cheese and crackers!

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