The Future Of Swearing

January 17, 2012 — 0

 My team likes to joke about my obsession with language.  I curse too much when I’m excited, never met a pun I didn’t try out and, as a writer, I would describe myself as a subtractive sculptor — I’m really good with the delete button.
On the cursing front, I’m trying to chill, but it’s tougher than I anticipated.  Maybe that’s because, shit, I use four letter words like they’re punctuation marks.
Remember Robert Graves’ book, “Lars Porsena, or The Future of Swearing“? Written in 1926, Graves’ tongue-in-cheek treatise laments the decline of swearing and foul language in England and looks back with nostalgia at the glory days of oaths and blasphemies.


We spend an awful lot of time thinking about the future of technology, media, consumption.  But the future of language isn’t something I’d given much thought to since grad school. 

Then I read two posts in Communications Futures, potential scenarios on the future of swearing, in which Rex Troumbley foresees some fascinating outcomes, and now I find myself thinking about the socioeconomic and geopolitical forces acting upon language.  And how that’s gonna change shit, I believe, sooner than we think.

You can tell Rex had a blast with these: “The only disclaimer I’ll include is that the scenarios are not for the faint of heart or the easily offended…and that they were a hell of a lot of fun to write.”


Scenario 1

(December 28, 2011 in Communications Futures)

This scenario represents a future in which the use of profanity has continued to grow along with the technologies which mediate communication over 50 years. 

Reverse Timeline:

  • 2060 Technological telepathy encourages the direct transmission of swear-images between individuals.
  • 2055 Research and development commences on military applications of cursing.
  • 2050 Swearing in virtual world causes changes in the physical world. First person killed by a virtual curse.
  • 2045 End of written language causes swearing to become an exclusively auditory and visual phenomenon.
  • 2040 Derogatory gender terms become focused on male gender. First use of Fatherfucker by the female United States president causes a scandal. Last book published using formal writing.
  • 2035 First AI begins cursing in a language entirely of its own creation.
  • 2030 Insult Competitions (flyting) recognized as an official Olympic sport.
  • 2025 As China and India become dominant world powers, English becomes suffused with Chinese and Hindi curses.
  • 2020 Publishing of slang dictionaries completely replaces production of formal dictionaries.
  • 2015 Overt and covert censorship causes an explosion of new curse-words.

(For more on how this could play out, with fuller narrative, click here.)

Scenario 2

If you managed to get through the first scenario, here’s the second which represents a future where regulation and control of language, proper and improper, has been the dominant trend for the last 50 years.

Reverse Timeline:

  • 2060 Creation of new words and destruction of old words practically impossible.
  • 2055 Each citizen required to use every word in their preferred language’s Complete Dictionary at least one time each year, including curse-words.
  • 2050 Standard English declared the official language in the United States. Other languages can be used, but the use of a Universal Real-Time Translator (URTT) required in all public areas. Each citizen must declare their one preferred language.
  • 2045 Foreign language teaching is considered unnecessary and programs are dropped from schools. Universal Translator created which only translates fixed foreign languages into Standard English.
  • 2040 The Complete English Dictionary is completed. Registration of permanent language preference is required of all U.S. citizens. Only one choice is available per individual.
  • 2035 The Department of English commissions research into mental methods of fixing language as well as to develop a universal real-time translator.
  • 2030 Congress passes laws which require the use of Standard English by all government employees. The Department of Language is established to review petitions for new word creation and to compile the Complete English Dictionary. Creating new words becomes taboo or sin.
  • 2025 In response to sentiments against Twext English, filtering and auto-completing technology is deployed. Creating new words, curse-words included, electronically is made impossible.
  • 2020 The rapid destruction of languages prompts an international response to preserve language structure, syntax, and identity by appointing linguists to fix language according to their use in the Human Language Project in 2015.
  • 2015 Linguists complete the Human Language Project, storing visual and audio recordings and texts in an online database.

(For more on how this could play out, with fuller narrative, click here.)