What in tarnation? Maps track ‘bad words’ on Twitter


For reasons we can’t begin to explain, the use of “damn” in Tweets is not popular in Montana, while people in the Deep South are just mad about it.

Montanans—at least those of us who use Twitter—are a fairly tame lot, according to a British linguist.

Jack Grieves, a lecturer in forensic linguistics at Aston University in Birmingham, England, has published a series of maps showing the comparative usage rates of “bad words” in the continental United States, as they appear in Tweets.

A full explanation of the project, and a look at all the maps, may be found on Strong Language, a blog devoted to swearing. The “bad words,” by the way, run from the very tame—”gosh, “darn” and “crap”—to two words I can’t quite bring myself to spell out, despite being the sole proprietor of an online newspaper where anything goes, in theory. One of those words is the dreaded “C-word,” arguably the strongest word in the English language; the other is “fuck” with the “mom word” as a prefix.

Grieves has been doing all sorts of interesting research based on a collection of almost 1 billion geo-coded tweets, adding up to nearly 9 billion words gathered between October 2013 and November 2014. His colleague in this has been Diansheng Guo at the University of South Carolina.

Grieves’ work has attracted all kinds of big-time media attention. The New York Times has reported on his work on “emerging language” on Twitter, and the Atlantic reported on his research into gender differences in the use of “um” and “uh.”

So his research on swear words is serious shit, all right?

All you really need to know about Grieves’ maps is that orange clusters denote positive z-scores, or U.S. counties where use of a particular word is fairly common, and that blue clusters, denoting negative z-scores, represent counties where the word is not so common.

Now, as for Montana: For whatever reason, Montana is in a deep freeze, almost entirely dark blue, when it comes to “shit,” “bitch” and “damn,” meaning those words appear infrequently in our Tweets. We are still quite blue in regard to “fuck,” though there are patches of faint orange in the northeast corner of the state and in the vicinity of Sidney.

Keep in mind, though, that we are not told how many people actually Tweet in those areas. Up near Plentywood, that region of above-average “fucks,” it is entirely possible that one or two prolific, profane Tweeters could completely skew the data. Here’s that map:fuck-map

Interestingly, “asshole,” which you would think is common everywhere, leaves Montana mostly blue once again, though there are patches of orange stretching along the North Dakota state line from about Sidney down to Wyoming. Is this some kind of linguistic Bakken effect?

“Faggot,” which is a bad word with extra badness points for being homophobic (though admittedly it can also be a nearly generic juvenile put-down), is used heavily in just one county, dark-orange Carter, and hardly at all in dark-blue Blaine and Petroleum counties. This cries out for further research.

The “mom-F-bomb-word” is least used in tiny Treasure County, and then paints an odd, Italy-shaped patch of real estate light-orange, from Flathead County sloping southeast down to Meagher County.

One of the strangest clusters on the map is a doughnut-shaped thing, complete with a hole in the middle, showing that “whore” is heavily used in the area where Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming and South Dakota come together. It is, inexplicably, the densest concentration in the whole Lower 48:

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Montanans don’t care much for “slut” or “pussy,” or for “fuckboy,” which makes sense, since I had never before encountered the word, and I consider myself a fairly normal Montanan.

The sorriest thing about all these maps? Montana is darkest orange when it comes to “douche,” a word I really hate and apologize for printing. What could possibly explain our widespread use of that ugly word?

I won’t even publish that map. Go find it your own goddamn self.

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