Taboo language across the globe: a multi-lab study

Simone Sulpizio*, Fritz Günther*, Linda Badan, Benjamin Basclain, Marc Brysbaert, Yuen Lai Chan, Laura Anna Ciaccio, Carolin Dudschig, Jon Andoni Duñabeitia, Fabio Fasoli, Ludovic Ferrand, Dušica Filipović Đurđević, Ernesto Guerra, Geoff Hollis, Remo Job, Khanitin Jornkokgoud, Hasibe Kahraman, Naledi Kgolo-Lotshwao, Sachiko Kinoshita, Julija KosLeslie Lee, Nala H. Lee, Ian Grant Mackenzie, Milica Manojlović, Christina Manouilidou, Mirko Martinic, Maria del Carmen Méndez, Ksenija Mišić, Natinee Na Chiangmai, Alexandre Nikolaev, Marina Oganyan, Patrice Rusconi, Giuseppe Samo, Chi Shing Tse, Chris Westbury, Peera Wongupparaj, Melvin J. Yap, Marco Marelli*

*Corresponding author for this work

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The use of taboo words represents one of the most common and arguably universal linguistic behaviors, fulfilling a wide range of psychological and social functions. However, in the scientific literature, taboo language is poorly characterized, and how it is realized in different languages and populations remains largely unexplored. Here we provide a database of taboo words, collected from different linguistic communities (Study 1, N = 1046), along with their speaker-centered semantic characterization (Study 2, N = 455 for each of six rating dimensions), covering 13 languages and 17 countries from all five permanently inhabited continents. Our results show that, in all languages, taboo words are mainly characterized by extremely low valence and high arousal, and very low written frequency. However, a significant amount of cross-country variability in words’ tabooness and offensiveness proves the importance of community-specific sociocultural knowledge in the study of taboo language.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3794–3813
Number of pages20
JournalBehavior Research Methods
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2024. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • best–worst scaling
  • emotion
  • semantics
  • swearing
  • taboo words


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