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Survey Finds a Rising Tide of Profanity -- No - - - -!

April 02, 2006|Jocelyn Noveck | Associated Press Writer

This is a story about words we can't print.

You probably hear these words more often than ever. Are we living in an Age of Profanity?

Almost three-quarters of Americans questioned last month -- 74% -- said they encountered profanity in public frequently or occasionally, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll. Two-thirds said they thought people swear more than they did 20 years ago. And as for, well, the gold standard of foul words, a healthy 64% said they used it -- ranging from several times a day (8%) to a few times a year (15%).

Just ask Joe Cormack. Like any bartender, Cormack, of Fort Dodge, Iowa, hears a lot of talk. He's not really offended by bad language -- heck, he uses it himself every day. But sometimes, a customer will unleash the word so many times, Cormack just has to jump in.

"Do you have any idea how many times you've just said that?" he reports saying from time to time. "I mean, if I take that out of your vocabulary, you've got nothin!' "

And it's not just at the bar. Or on TV. (Or on the Senate floor, for that matter, where Vice President Dick Cheney used the word in a heated argument two years ago.)

At the community college where Cormack studies journalism, students will occasionally inject foul language into classroom discussions.

Irene Kramer, a grandmother in Scranton, Pa., gets her ears singed when passing by the high school near her home.

"What we hear, it's gross," says Kramer, 67. "I tell them, 'I have a dictionary and a Roget's Thesaurus, and I don't see any of those words in there.' I don't understand why these parents allow it."

For Kramer, a major culprit is television. "Do I have to be insulted right there in my own home?" she asks. "I'm not going to pay $54 a month for cable and listen to that garbage." And yet she feels it's not a lost cause. "If people say, 'Look, I don't want you talking that way,' if they demand it, it's going to have to change."

In that battle, Kramer has a willing comrade: Judith Martin, who writes the syndicated Miss Manners column.

"Is it inevitable?" Martin asked in a recent interview. "Well, if it were inevitable I wouldn't be doing my job." The problem, she says, is that people who are offended aren't speaking up.

"Everybody is pretending they aren't shocked," Martin said, "and gradually people won't be shocked. And then those who want to be offensive will find another way."

Perhaps not surprisingly, profanity seems to divide people by age and by sex.

Younger people admit to using bad language more often than older people; they also encounter it more and are less bothered by it. The AP-Ipsos poll showed that 62% of 18- to 34-year-olds acknowledged swearing in conversation at least a few times a week, compared to 39% of those 35 and older.

More women than men said they encountered people swearing more now than 20 years ago -- 75%, compared to 60%. Also, more women said they were bothered by profanity -- 74% at least some of the time -- than men, 60%. And more men admitted to swearing: 54% at least a few times a week, compared to 39% of women.

The AP poll questioned 1,001 adults on March 20-22, with a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

For those who might find the results depressing, there's a possible silver lining: Many of those who swear think it's wrong nonetheless.

That includes Steven Price, a security guard in Tonawanda, N.Y., who admits swearing several times a day.

Price, 31, still gets mad at himself for doing it.

"As I get older, the more things change," says Price. "And I kind of wish they had stayed the same."

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