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Sun December 15, 2013

Oh My, Ohio! Five States Named 'Most Likely To Curse'

Originally published on Mon December 16, 2013 12:05 pm

Most of us like to think we comport ourselves with a certain level of civility. But apparently, phone calls with customer service representatives of all stripes can lead us into more colorful speech. And some people like to track it.

"There's just something about big data and sailor-cursing that complement each other — like peanut butter and mothereffing jelly," writes Megan Garber of The Atlantic.

Potty-mouth research in the past has focused on the written word — looking at the incidence of F-bombs dropped in geotagged tweets or Facebook posts, for example.

But ad firm Marchex went straight for the voice. It researched recorded customer service calls — those ones where the customer sometimes gets left on the line, waiting and waiting and maybe even cursing a little, forgetting that the "call may be recorded for quality service."

Using call-mining technology, Marchex scanned more than 600,000 phone calls from the past year. The calls had been placed by customers to businesses in 30 different industries, from cable companies to auto dealerships to pest control centers.

The project looked at two things: where people swear the most, and where they are the most polite, using phrases like "please" and "thank you" in their phone calls.

Garber's home state of Ohio performed abysmally — both in terms of swearing and in lack of courtesy.

"I have to admit, there's a little part of me that's a little bit proud," Garber tells NPR's Rachel Martin. "Mostly I'm ashamed, but a little bit proud as well."

Ohio led the way in the "Sailors" category — states where people are most likely to curse. Maryland, New Jersey, Louisiana and Illinois followed suit.

The goody-two-shoes states, which used the least profanity, were led by Washington, followed by Massachusetts, Arizona, Texas and Virginia.

South Carolina led the "Most Courteous" states, which also included North Carolina, Maryland, Louisiana and Georgia. Finally, the "Least Courteous" team: Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Indiana, Tennessee and Ohio. Again.

Aside from the state breakdowns, Garber says the group learned a bit more about cursing habits.

"We learned a little bit about the gender distribution. So, 66 percent of the curses came from men," she says. And people don't like waiting.

"Calls that last more than 10 minutes by far had the most profanity used," she explains. "So, you can see a situation where a phone call wasn't going well and the frustration would build, and that frustration would finally be relieved by some well-chosen words."

This should all make us think twice as we are expressing ourselves on these phone calls. Just take a deep breath first.

Marchex plans to release a study this week on the businesses that get cursed at the most by consumers over the phone.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Most of us like to think we comport ourselves with a certain level of civility. But apparently phone calls with customer service representatives of all stripes can lead us into, shall we say, more colorful speech. The bottom line: frustrating phone calls like these make us swear. The ad firm Marchex did some research using those recorded customer service calls and they published new data on where in the United States people swear the most. So, the next time your hear...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: To ensure quality service, your call may be monitored or recorded.

MARTIN: ...mind your Ps and Qs, people. The Atlantic's Megan Garber joins me now to explain who's doing a good job of it and who wouldn't suffer from a semester at finishing school. Hey, Megan.

MEGAN GARBER: Hi, there.

MARTIN: So, what does the research exactly say? What were they looking at?

GARBER: They were looking at the usage of different words. So, you can sort of imagine - I won't say them for you - but you can imagine some of the keywords that they might have searched for in their data set and then they were cross-referencing their findings against the geographic origin of the phone calls.

MARTIN: OK. And Marchex looked at both where people swear and where they're the most polite, using phrases like please and thank you in these phone calls.

GARBER: They did indeed.

MARTIN: But to be blunt about this, Megan, your home state of Ohio performed abysmally.

GARBER: Both in terms of the swearing and in terms of the lack of courtesy, I know. I have to admit there's a little part of me that's a little bit proud. Mostly I'm ashamed but a little bit proud as well.

MARTIN: So, which other states performed well or performed poorly?

GARBER: Following up Ohio in terms of the most profanity used in these conversations, it was Maryland then New Jersey then Louisiana and then Illinois.

MARTIN: Maryland kind of surprises me but the others makes sense to me.

GARBER: I know. I've spent a little time in New Jersey I have to say, so that one does not surprise me at all. And then in terms of the states that used the least amount of profanity, Washington, followed up by Massachusetts, which I actually found a little bit surprising.

MARTIN: Little surprising, yeah.

GARBER: And then Arizona, Texas and Virginia.

MARTIN: Interesting. OK. And what else did we learn from this research about who swears, when they do it and why?

GARBER: We learned a little bit about the gender distribution, which I thought was interesting. So, 66 percent of the curses came from men.

MARTIN: No comment. I have no comment.

GARBER: Yes, exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

GARBER: We also learned that calls that last more than 10 minutes, by far, had the most profanity used. So, basically, you can see a situation where a phone call wasn't going well and the frustration would build that frustration finally would be relieved by some well-chosen words.

MARTIN: Well, this should make us all think twice as we are expressing ourselves on these phone calls. Just take a deep breath first.

GARBER: Exactly.

MARTIN: The Atlantic's Megan Garber. Megan, thank you so much for talking with us.

GARBER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

HOT HOT HEAT: (Singing) Watch your dirty mouth, your dirty mouth, watch your dirty mouth. Oh, watch your dirty mouth, 'cause you say...

MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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