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Study: Increased swear words in books represents trend toward individualism

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SAN DIEGO (CNS) - An increase in swear words in books represents a larger cultural trend toward individualism and free expression, the author of a San Diego State University study said Thursday.

The study also shows how using swear words has changed over time and captures the evolving American psyche, according to SDSU psychology professor Jean M. Twenge.  author of the book, "Generation Me."

Twenge worked with SDSU graduate student Hannah VanLandingham and University of Georgia psychologist W. Keith Campbell, to analyze content from tens of thousands of books published between 1950 and 2008, catalogued by the Google Books database.

They searched for instances of the late comedian George Carlin's "seven notorious words," and found a rising trend of those words appearing in books, according to the study.

As the team described in the journal SAGE Open, American authors used the seven words 28 times more often in the mid-2000s than the early 1950s.

"Forty-five years after George Carlin's routine, you can say those words on television and in books," Twenge said.

The findings suggest that the words have become much less taboo over time, she said. One interpretation is that people today value free expression more than they did several decades ago, according to the study.

Previous research which has found that American society is becoming increasingly individualistic, a trait especially prominent in young people, Twenge said. "Millennials have a 'come as you are' philosophy, and this study shows one of the ways they got it: Culture has shifted toward more free self-expression," she said.

More on the study can be found here

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