I Am Man, Hear Me Swear

Evolution may help explain why men are more prolifically profane than women.

By Bailey Wolff, published July 8, 2015 - last reviewed on June 10, 2016

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Men tend to use stronger profanity than women and swear in public more frequently, studies have found. Have women simply learned to be more polite than men? Perhaps, but research suggests that’s not the whole story. “Our social norms in relation to swearing and gender roles have not popped up all of a sudden,” says Emre Güvendir, a language researcher at Trakya University in Turkey. “They are accumulations of our long evolutionary history.”

Since curse words are often wielded in aggression, Güvendir argues, the variance in their usage is likely connected to overall differences in the way males and females process aggressive impulses. In the journal Language Sciences, he recounts several studies showing a greater volume in the orbitofrontal cortex of female brains—which suggest that the average woman’s brain is better built for moderating aggression than the average man’s brain.

Evolutionary theory suggests that this aggression gap likely resulted from the different reproductive pressures on males and females. Prehistoric men would have sought and competed for as many mates as possible, and more aggressive males would have sired a greater number of children. Women, tasked with gestating and raising children, had more to lose than gain by getting into fights, Güvendir says. Modern-day women’s relative reluctance to drop F-bombs may be a vestige of that legacy. 

Cursin’ Bird

Breakdown of swearing on Twitter

F***  35%
S***  15%
A**  14.5%

Swearing as % of total words

0.5–0.7% of spoken conversation
1.15% of tweets

Source: Cursing in English on Twitter, 2014

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