Measuring the Curse of Social Media Tools

Filed as Features on January 14, 2009 8:56 pm

Exploring Social Media article series badgeAs part of my ongoing series on exploring social media tools, I’d like to take a look at the usage of curse words on the web, specifically those tracked by .

Adult Content Warning: The following includes words that may offend some. Consider yourself warned.

A lot of SEO and web strategies specialists spend a lot of time tracking keywords, search terms, hashtags, and other frequently used words and phrases across the web, especially those used in social media tools. takes this research a step further.

Built by Richard Henry, tracks swear words, cussing, and cursing on the web. Those “bad words” and expletives once restrained to back rooms and the “lower class” which are now the largest export from the United States through the rest of the world through our entertainment media. Once called “four letter words” by class, and celebrated by the late, great George Carlin Cursebird - tracks swear words on twitterwith his list of the “Seven Dirty Words” which later grew to hundreds of words once not permitted on television or radio, these are the words that may shock, but are part of our everyday online culture. So why not track the cuss stats?

Social media tools have two general purposes. First is the social, proving online tools to create community and social interaction. The second, and for some the most important, they are today’s business communications and reputation building tools. Our whole lives are now lived on the web where everything and anything we do or say can be recorded and saved – and searched – for posterity.

You would think that social media would be the last place people would want to cuss and swear, and yet, it’s actually more common than you think. The words people use in their day-to-day social interactions are not always censored once they hit the web.

The list of the top ten swear words tracked by Cursebird on Twitter over the past seven days are:

  • fuck 49.29%
  • shit 37.25%
  • bitch 8.97%
  • bastard 2.02%
  • cunt 0.72%
  • twat 0.6%
  • bollocks 0.39%
  • dick 0.32%
  • cock 0.27%
  • bloody 0.17%

In the past week, there is a noticeable decrease in the usage of “dick” while “cock” is up by 22.73%. Maybe it’s a sign that the less offensive word is being replaced by the more offensive synonym, or maybe a momentary trend. It’s clear that bitch is definitely a more common name-calling reference over the masculine equivalent.

The top two words on the list are the most famous of all the four letter words, with the rest quickly dropping off low on the charts, but it would be interesting to know if Cursebird tracks variations on the theme such as f*ck, f**k, f_ck, f__k, and sh*t.

Cursebird showcases the top ten swear words along with a random listing of the top cussers and swearers on Twitter.

cursebird-lizstraussYou can also dig for the swear rate for yourself or your favorite tweeter. I checked out Liz Strauss. “Liz Strauss swears like a Pimary School Teacher” is the result, with only one swear word. She is ranked 106,179th worldwide.

Her tweet with the offending swear word was actually a re-tweet which defined “bitch = steel magnolia” tweeted by @CrazyOnYou – so her only claim to cussing fame is actually a tweet by someone else. Which would actually put her in the same group as me.

Lorelleonwp, my Twitter swear coverage on Cursebird, states that I swear like a mute, ranked at the bottom with not a single swear word. It gives me the score of “lame of 100″ and says that Cursebird has never seen that Twitter user. I thought I’d let a few choice words through in my Twitter stream, so that’s interesting.

Would it be of interest to you to track who is using the most swear words in their Twitter stream? I’d love to see a chart of the top 50 of 100 swearers on Twitter, just out of curiosity. And maybe a second chart for those who rarely or never swear. That’s where you would find Liz and I hanging out.

Swear Words Speaking for Society?

Watching Cursebird, it’s soon clear that most of the swear words are used in a sentence, such as “Shit, it’s cold out” and “I need to clean up my shit,” fairly common expressions. Many love to add emphasis with colorful adjectives, especially when complaining about weather, work, or computer or web applications, such as:

Getting rid of my past. mostly in the trash. hey does anyone want a whistle in the form of a purple hippo in a tutu? a pile of shit poetry?

My step-mother used to tease us all when she’d let out a long hiss of “shhhhhhhhhhhhhh” ending in “sugar in the morning” rather than the anticipated word. She worked hard to make sure that we kids understood that “those” words had no place within a mannered society. She still has problems with the integration of swear words into every day speak, but she taught us well – at least she taught us to choose consciously the words we speak.

Many have learned to search for product and service reviews by combining “sucks” with the name of the company. Imagine the following combination having a negative impact on the companies:

DirecTV and MDU Communications in Chicago f*cking suck.
by @jsiarto

cursebird-fuckingsucks

The colorful statements that come flying through are inspirational in a way. I wished I could be that colorful with my language, and that brave. I especially loved this profound statement that slid across the Cursebird screen:

I don’t understand why people cant shut the f*ck up for 10 minutes. this is ridiculous.
by @denasaur

cursebird-shutthefuckup

Often, the use of swear words is tied to an emotional response. I spotted one retweet responding to another:

@1938media: “I’m scared. I know I can’t be alone in this feeling. We have lost ourselves, and no one fucking cares either.” I care… A LOT! by @amandachapel

Cursebird twitter swears - not alone response

The original author was clearly reaching out, and maybe the swear word was an eye catcher to get a response of reassurance.

Wishes for Improving Cursebird

Cursebird updates automatically as it uncovers published swear words on Twitter. There isn’t an About page or more information on Cursebird, which would be fun to read to get some insights into why Richard Henry built this Twitter app. I’d also love to see a listing of the top Twitter swearers by ranking, and a tag cloud/heat map of the swear words tracked.

It would also be fun to have a submission form for entering in new words for the app to consider tracking. While I’ve used bork and fark for many years, the popular television show remake, Battlestar Galactica, brought fark back into popularity as an expletive. Could be interesting to track these new swear words as part of our developing language sets.

Is this a useful social media tool? It depends. What would you use it for? Strictly entertainment, or do you see a purpose?

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  1. By emma james posted on March 9, 2009 at 12:58 pm
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    Actually, Battlestar Gallactica brought back the word FRAK, not fark. FYI.

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