The Republican presidential contest is being conducted by a group of six men, all of whom are above the age of 11. As such, each is familiar with the English language’s various swear words and vulgarities, and each, we can assume, has at some point deployed one or all of those words himself.
One candidate, though, has used those words during his campaign, in a way that is unusual for someone vying to be the president of the United States.
It gave us a particularly unusual moment from Saturday night’s debate. Donald Trump insisted that he didn’t say the word beginning with F; he merely pantomimed saying it.
“Occasionally, in order to sort of really highlight something,” Donald Trump said, “I’ll use a profanity. One of the profanities that I got credited with using, that I didn’t use, was a very bad word, two weeks ago, that I never used. I said ‘[mouths a word beginning with F] you.’ And everybody said, ‘Oh, he didn’t say anything wrong.’ But you bleeped it, so everyone thinks I said the — I didn't say anything. I never said the word.”
Who cares, right? The voters of New Hampshire didn't appear to care last week when Trump repeated a word used by an audience member to refer to Ted Cruz. (The word was “pussy.”) Trump won the state by a mile.
But South Carolina is, apparently, different. Trump’s comments were prompted by a question from moderator John Dickerson, who said that “something, in talking to voters, that they wish somebody would tell you to cut out is the profanity.” Other reporters said on Twitter that they’d heard similar complaints; the New York Times ran a whole article on it.
So what gives?
The short answer is that South Carolina is a very different state than New Hampshire. In Iowa this year, 64 percent of the voters identified as evangelical, according to entrance polls. In New Hampshire, that figure was 27 percent. In South Carolina in 2012, the figure was higher, 65 percent — one of the highest percentages in the country, behind a few other states in the Bible Belt.
Not familiar with the Bible Belt? This map from Pew Research makes it pretty obvious. It’s the Deep South, an area with a higher density of evangelical voters than most of the rest of the United States.
That said, though, it’s not like the Bible Belt doesn’t swear. Jack Grieve, a computational linguist at Aston University in England, made a series of maps showing where Americans were more and less likely to use swear words on Twitter.
He tweeted a number of them out, with the words intact. Since this is a family newspaper/website that perhaps little kids read for some reason, we have removed those words from the maps and replaced them with similar-looking words that most second-graders would easily recognize anyway.
So. On these maps, red areas use the word more frequently and blue areas use it less.
Take the word a--h--- (sounds kind of like crashbowl).
People in the Deep South states — and particularly in South Carolina — don’t use it as much as the Northeast.
The word b---- on the other hand (stitch), is very popular along the eastern seaboard and in the South.
... as is the word that Trump used to describe Cruz, p---- (mushy).
Come on, y’all. Don’t pretend.
It being the Bible Belt, it shouldn’t be surprising that they use d--- (cram) and h--- (swell) a lot.
But they also say s--- (snit) more than much of the rest of the country.
The real language prudes, according to Grieve, are in the Plains and Midwest, where they say darn and gosh — words so tame I don’t even have to go through the silly ritual of masking them.
The language maps, we should note, depict all tweets from the areas, not just the tweets of Republican voters. In 2012, 72 percent of the Republicans that came out to vote were 45 or older — a group that in 2015 largely didn't use Twitter at all. (That year, only 13 percent of those aged 50 to 64 used the service — and only 6 percent of those older did.) So how the states tweet may not reflect how the voters feel about the terms.
But one might fairly assume that, like Trump’s competition in the upcoming primary, older Republican voters also use the terms — just not during speeches while they’re running for president.
Except that an older South Carolinian did run for president, and he also swore. “These polls don’t mean a damn thing now,” Lindsey Graham told Fox News last October.
Maybe that’s why he had to drop out.