Swearing can mean you're smarter - especially if you're a woman

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Who has the biggest potty mouth, men or women?

Research in the 1990s suggested men were using the f-word 1000 times per million words, but women used it just 167.

Cut forward to today, and women are using it 546 times for every million words they speak, which is six (yes, only six per million, but still) more f-words than men.

This is from a new survey by Economic and Social Research Council, Lancaster University and the Cambridge University Press.

But before we start calling females "nasty women", here's what some other research (published in Language Sciences journal) says: those who swear may have stronger language skills.

That's right: if you swear more, as women seem to, you might be smarter.

See, if you're a good swearer – not just someone who throws the horrible c-word about whenever you're angry – you know there can be a lot of nuance in the art of swearing.

There's a lot of potency in choosing the right swear word for the right moment. When well-timed, it can cut through awkwardness, demand attention, convey assertiveness, or create levity in an otherwise bleak situation.

The Languages Sciences article contrasts this "art" with the "Poverty of Vocabulary" concept, which essentially infers that those who swear frequently do so for lack of better works.

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Basically, this view works off the belief that if you swear a lot, you're just inarticulate and intellectually stunted when it comes to expressing yourself.

Languages Sciences's research, however, works to debunk this. "A voluminous taboo lexicon may better be considered an indicator of healthy verbal abilities rather than a cover for their deficiencies," said the article's authors.

"Speakers who use taboo words understand their general expressive content as well as nuanced distinctions that must be drawn to use slurs appropriately.

"The ability to make nuanced distinctions indicates the presence of more rather than less linguistic knowledge, as implied by the Poverty of Vocabulary view."

Now, because women seemingly swear more than men, is this yet more proof that the ladies are smarter than the blokes?

It could be. In 2015, women outsmarted men in IQ tests in New Zealand, Canada, and the US, and have steadily been on the up in their general intelligence levels for several years. 

Moreover, University of Western Ontario research confirms women handle stress better than men, a University of Sussex study showed girls to be more competent at computer coding than boys, and McMaster University research has found that women's abilities to make fair decisions when competing interests are at stake make them better corporate leaders.

The women vs men intelligence debate is one that has been controversial for many years, with many different results. In real life, whether or not swearing adds to or takes away from your level of intellect is highly subjective.

So do keep this in mind. If you're a big swearer, whether you're female or male, it all depends on how you swear. Take that to heart before you drop an f-bomb at your next meeting.

Stuff.co.nz