[Ads-l] profanity in music lyrics (UNCLASSIFIED)

Mullins, Bill CIV (US) william.d.mullins18.civ at MAIL.MIL
Wed Dec 23 17:59:28 UTC 2015


Jesse Sheidlower recently tweeted a link to an analysis of "profanity" in music lyrics.



A couple of thoughts:

The authors are using "profanity" as a catch-all for bad words.  I generally think of "profanity" as language involving a religious taboo ("damn" or taking the Lord's name in vain, for example).  Obscenities are those which offend a sexual taboo (the f-word).  I don't know of a particular noun that refers to bad words that offend scatological taboos ("shit", "piss"), or racial taboos (the N-word), or other miscellaneous bad words (SOB, dumbass, etc.)

The authors of the study identified "bum" (presumably in the British sense of ass) as the most common profanity in Folk music, and the third most common in Country music.  I bet that the vast majority of the usages of this work in these genres referred to "someone who is out of work" (bum = hobo), or "to bum" as in "to ask for a cigarette or the like".  I wouldn't consider this usage to be profanity. 

Country's top 3 were ass, shit, and bum -- surprising that neither hell nor damn were at the top.

The authors link to the list of dirty words for which they searched.  It included a number of words that may or not be taboo, depending on usage (ball, knob, etc.), but don't explain as to how or if they considered context (from the comments on "bum" above, I'd suspect they did a poor job of it).  And it included a number of words that I wouldn't consider to be profanity at all (although I would be careful as to how I used them in polite company) such as Viagra, whore, pornography.  And it included "kondum" but not "condom", which is odd.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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