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Canadians watching their language more carefully, poll finds

Since 2019, more people are making efforts to avoid swearing around others.
Mouth-covered-Photographer, Basak Gurbuz Derman-Moment-Getty
The proportion of Canadians who admit to using swear words “frequently” or “occasionally” when chatting with friends has dropped by three percentate points since 2019.
The last couple of years have given Canadians plenty of chances to be upset, and to express their feelings with colourful language.

We experienced, albeit from afar, the tail end of the Donald Trump presidency in the United States, and even the hint of an insurgency at the start of 2021. We have also endured electoral campaigns at the federal level and in most provinces, as well as a debate between those who believe in vaccination against COVID-19 and those who “did their own research.”

The pandemic has curbed human interaction in many ways. Some Canadians are not going to restaurants or diners at all. Arenas and stadiums across Canada have only recently started to welcome fans, but many workers remain in their home offices. Our chances to blurt out a swear word may be limited to our own surroundings, or during virtual meetings with co-workers.

Research Co. and Glacier Media revisited the issue of the incidence of swear words in Canada and found that – in spite of the unexpected challenges that we have encountered – we are now an even more polite Great White North.

In our latest survey, almost half of Canadians (49%, up one point since 2019) say they sometimes modify the way they speak so as not to swear in front of certain people. Only 15% of the country’s residents (up one point) admit to never altering the way they speak and not being concerned if a swear word comes out.

Finally, more than a third of Canadians (36%, down two points) say they always alter the way they speak to make sure that they don’t swear in public.

The group of Canadians who always try to avoid uttering swear words includes 39% of women and 40% of those aged 55 and over. On a regional basis, Alberta and Ontario lead the way in caution (43% and 40% respectively), followed by British Columbia (36%), Atlantic Canada (35%), Quebec (32%) and Saskatchewan and Manitoba (29%).

Canadians aged 18 to 34 are more likely to acknowledge that they sometimes change the words they use depending on who they are talking to (62%) than their counterparts aged 35 to 54 (51%) and aged 55 and over (44%).

Almost two-thirds of respondents to this survey (64%) say they hear swear words “frequently” or “occasionally” when they are talking with friends on a regular day, down four points since 2019. There are also drops in the proportions of Canadians who say they have listened to strangers (50%, down five points), relatives (49%, down five points) and co-workers (48%, down four points) swear during conversations with them.

The fluctuations are not as dramatic for the Canadians who say they are never exposed to swear words, whether in the workplace (24%, unchanged) or when chatting with relatives (15%, up one point), strangers (16%, up two points) and friends (10%, unchanged).

Our own behaviour is also showing signs of improvement, if you are a person who cares deeply about manners. Almost half of Canadians (49%, down three points) admit to using swear words “frequently” or “occasionally” when chatting with friends. The declines are even more pronounced for the personal use of swear words during conversations with relatives (36%, down four points), co-workers (31%, down three points) and strangers (17%, down six points).

The survey suggests that the use of colourful language across the country is changing. We could look at British Columbia as the politest province in Canada, since 15% of residents claim that they never hear swear words during conversations with their friends. In Atlantic Canada, the proportion of friendly chats devoid of “bombs” stands at a statistically inconsequential 4%.

British Columbians are also especially careful about the way they speak when their family is nearby. While 41% of the province’s residents say they never swear when talking with their relatives, the numbers fall to 37% in Alberta, 33% in Ontario, 30% in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, 27% in Quebec and 26% in Atlantic Canada.

While Ontario is near the national average on most items tested, we have one data point that is worth keeping in mind. There is a one-in-20 chance that addressing an Ontarian for the first time – whether to ask for directions or make a quick introduction – will result in a swear word directed your way, but not necessarily at you.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from October 25 to October 27, 2021, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.