The survey that I started last week was meant to help me understand more about three main ‘research questions:’
What are general attitudes about swearing in a group of random internet strangers?
Was it normal for people to swear at primary school in the past?
Why do my students swear so damn much?
I should preface this post with the disclaimer that it is NOT science, nor is it meant to be taken particularly seriously.
I’m a public school ELL (English Language Learning) teacher in Hanoi, Vietnam at the moment. It’s been seven years since I began teaching, and I’ve caught something of the gist of the generation that will come to age after my own Millennial one. This is not yet another chance to wonder what we Millennials will kill next (soap? soda? civilisation?) nor a chance to navel-gaze about the labels we apply to randomly-born humans.
I caught primary school students before the Age of the “Influencer,” when Youtube and its derivatives wandered into the very hands of practically every person who lives in a city in the world. Anecdotally, I noticed in my travels (China, Korea, Iceland, USA, UK, Vietnam) that children seem to have far fouler mouths than I remember from primary school. Since I began teaching in 2011, it seems as if children have started to swear more and more. Especially, it seems, in English.
I should also state that the swearing is not an isolated experience in my work. Every day, in almost every class, students drop phrases on me and others that would have gotten me sent to the Principal’s Office back in the 1990s.
I never swear at school, nor do I even use euphemisms like “fudge it” or “sugar.” They aren’t learning these phrases from me, folks!
The words and phrases are osmosed from the Interwebs, especially Youtube, and around the world from Chilean Patagonia to Vietnam children are turning the air blue.
Total number of Reddit users: approximately 1.2 billion, apparently!
Posted on 7 March 2018 to r/samplesize
Total Responses: 696
There’s an interestingly high proportion of those from ages 12-18. 51.3% from “Generation Z,” roughly defined as those born in the mid 1990s to early 2000s.
I got some pushback on this question. Originally, the reason I asked for a binary response was to see if the introduction of Youtube in 2005 influenced people. I decided once I had a ton of responses that this might be a little hard to tease out.
The question should have read, “Did you finish primary school before or after 2005?”
Oh well, I’ll try again some other time.
Major oversight here: I forgot to put Canada as an option. Sorry, Canada. My bad.
Still, mostly from the States. 1% of respondents from Sweden, Germany, and NZ. Most interesting ones were from Poland, Lithuania, Nigeria, Japan, and several people who moved around a lot.
A note for the next few questions; they all had the same list of words to choose from. The list of words was, in order:
- None of them.
Because I left it open to add one’s own phrases, it was too hard to see the additional words. I will sample the most funny ones below each image.
Broad agreement that saying “damn,” “darn,” or “hell” was okay as long as a teacher didn’t overhear you.
11 people said that “crap” was okay to utter with no adult supervision. Several people said, “heck” was okay. Several mentions slurs, which I distinguish from words I would consider swears along the following lines:
Slur (n.) – an offensive word or phrase that is used to denigrate a group of marginalised people, normally with specific historical reference to slavery, racism, or discrimination
Swear (n.) – an offensive word that is not directed at a specific group
I count the slurs as swears here, but I won’t re-publish them.
Broad agreement that “darn” was okay. Under 10% approval in this sample for “fuck, “bitch,” “arse/ass,” and “cunt.” Interestingly, “shit” as an expletive was okay for 12%. That seems high.
Relative agreement that it was okay to aim “darn” at a fellow pupil, but just as many said that none of those words would have been okay in class.
Now, this one made me feel a lot better.
I agree, dear readers! It is NOT okay for my students to say, “Fuck you,” “You’re a fucking bitch,” or “Shut the fuck up!” to a TEACHER. Any teacher.
On a personal note, these responses made me feel much better. In the last couple of weeks, a few people I work with told me that this was not a big deal. I’ve dealt with it since September, and my colleagues seem not to care. I’ve raised the issue a few times, and I always call the students out for this (barring the one kid in a class of mine who suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome and has a genuine diagnosis. He gets a pass, obviously). This was the whole impetus behind this survey. Thank you.
Interesting that the big swears (a la George Carlin) drop here from roughly 10% okay-ness to about 5%. This indicates that most people who responded to the survey agree that there are limits to what one can or should say to a teacher. At least, as far as I’m concerned.
For the next question, the list of phrases was:
- Fuck you
- Son of a Bitch
- Fuck you, bitch
- Fuck off
- God damn it
- Go to hell
- Fucking whore
- “Give me money or I’ll rape your wife”
- None of them.
I will preface these results with the statement that I have heard students in grades 1-5 (ages 6-11) this year saying these words at school. Every single phrase has graced my ears at least once (in English), with the exception of the wife-rape one. That was said to my husband.
On Monday, a second-grader asked me, “Teacher, you like fuck?” He then flipped me the bird and wandered off.
THIS IS NOT UNIQUE TO VIETNAM. This is a global phenomenon. You should’ve heard Icelandic kids swear at summer camp.
Also, I do not believe that 56 of respondents said the phrase “CuntyMcCuntFace” at school. You just thought it was funny, fuckers!
Additional responses were:
- “Damn it”
- “Almost got suspended for calling my friend a twat in 7th grade.”
- “Fucknugget, dickhead, scrote, wankstain”
- “I’m an Irishman, every single phrase was screamed at another child”
- “I hope you burn in heck, you frigging ice hole”
That last one is after my own puritan-environment heart.
Now for the general attitude results. Please note that these have some ‘noise’ in the form of people choosing to say, “fuck you.”
Haha. The survey itself may have shifted people’s ideas toward “maybe.”
Again, thank you, readers. I’m pretty fucking sick of it myself.
The last question was hilarious.
It was deliberately left open with a swear directed at the respondent.
322 said simply, “Other.” 327 used the word “fuck” in the response. That’s roughly 47% of respondents who, given the chance to swear at a stranger. said some form of “fuck you.”
People kept writing in this section:
- “Why is this a required question?!” <– See above.
- “This won’t get you accurate results” <–No shit. It’s for fun.
- Various poop, middle finger, and dick emojis
- “Am a 2nd grade teacher. Definitely more common now than when I was in school!” <– Hey, friend.
- “I am a teacher and work with kids at a rough school. They definitely swear at each other but they know not to swear at me.”
- “I found other kids who have sworn a lot to have more problems expressing themselves without using swear words. It’s like their word bank somehow shrank to mainly swear words. From my point of view, teachers should not encourage using swear words, but also shouldn’t perform the ‘drama’ around them. I’m trying to say, that if you don’t do the drama, it won’t be so much fun for the kids to use them. In fact, I’d like to propose an alternative approach: tolerate swear words, but encourage kids to try talking without them. Not because they are offensive, but because others will have issues understanding what they actually want to say.” <– Yes, this is basically my approach in the classroom. I ignore them up to a point (a flagrant swear aimed at me or someone else, say). Then, i just say that they shouldn’t use Internet English.
- “Some of these are pretty American swear words. The more religious ones – darn, damn, hell – wouldn’t really be considered cursing at all in the UK. By far the most used “swear word” when I was in primary school was crap” <– I’m from the USA but my husband is from England. We’ve talked at length about how swearing attitudes differ in our countries, but I included darn, hell, and damn because they were DEFINITELY swears for me as a kid in the US.
- “I think that swearing in elementary school is most often just experimentation, I knew few kids who swore every other word and dialed down as they aged. I kinda wish I did so that I felt comfortable with swears now and had a more innate understanding of when it’s appropriate. I find swears everywhere online and so when I say them I have to take a second to consider whether or not it’s a good situation for it. When I went to school in Korea kids swore a whole lot in both English and Korean.” <–Fair enough. I taught in Korea, as well.
- “I was one of the first kids in school to start swearing. I did it because it shocked the kids who were bullying me into leaving me alone. I swear all the fucking time and have no kids so I am not used to censoring myself outside of work and tend to swear in front of my nieces and nephews.”
- “None except kids today are disrespectful as fuck. You never said that shit TO A TEACHER in my day.”
- “Kids repeatedly saying “fuck you” to a teacher sounds more like lack of discipline/ behavioral issues than changing social norms honestly.” <– No shit. Addressed at length above.
- “Maybe I’m an old lady (34) but I really hope kids aren’t saying give me money or I’ll rape your wife…” <– They don’t really understand what it means, but stuff like this is said.
- “The nature of these questions has me very alarmed. As if society has allowed this language to be used by children? I only started saying shit and fuck in high school, and still cringed at the word cunt (even in Australia)”
- “We had more real consequences when we got in trouble compared to the kids now. Teachers tend to get blamed now” <– Several people in the survey said that I must be a bad teacher or that I must have taught the students to swear because of the wording of this survey.
- Eat dicks and die, u cock slapping piss bastard <3″ <– This is hilarious.
- “You’re not funny and neither is your survey” <– Okay, don’t spend time to fill it in, then.
- “Vape in my pussy and call me your memeslut.” <–I’m too Millennial for this shit.
- “No, fuck you you twat waffle!”
- “I’m tremendously disappointed in the lack of genital-related swears besides “cunt.” Seriously – “dick,” “cock,” “pussy…” not even “bollocks?”
- “Did you just learn how to say fuck?”
- “Make my tits lactate”
- “Hey, no swearing on my minecraft server.”
- “From Utah, btw” <– Couldn’t tell, hahaha.
- “Screw you with a bouquet of brontosaurus dicks. :D”
- “Incredible survey, thank you for your time, god bless and fuck you.”
- “Stop swearing!!!!!!”
To me, it seems like those who took the survey mostly agree that swearing at teachers is not okay even in 2018. In addition, it’s clear that a lot of the swears that we would have gotten in trouble for in my day are no longer considered so horrible.
It’s also clear that some people truly cannot take a fucking joke.
CALL FOR COMMENT
What do you think of the survey? What minute details could be improved? Are you a teacher who hears swears a lot? Tell me in the comments.
If you feel compelled to help educate these students after reading these results, I’m raising money for free books for them. You can find the GoFundMe page here.