Research Ngā Rangahau

What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting 2013

The report and chart below – and this page – contain language that some people will find offensive.

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What Not to Swear: The Acceptability of Words in Broadcasting 2013 Chart PDF66.88 KB

   Date published: September 2013

   Research Company: Nielsen



  • Quantitative research to provide a monitor of the acceptability of the use of swear words, blasphemies and other expletives in broadcasting over time


  • Administered national survey with 1,500 randomly selected individuals aged 18 years and over, stratified by region, age group, gender and ethnicity
  • Online methodology survey was the same approach as used in 2010. This is differentiated from the 1999 and 2005 surveys which made use of a face-to-face interview technique


  • 31 words were presented to respondents, all of which are included in the 2010 survey
  • Respondents rated eight words as Totally or Fairly unacceptable in relation to the scenario of a television drama shown after 8.30pm: Cunt (70%), Nigger (65%), Mother fucker (61%), Jesus Fucking Christ (61%), Cocksucker (56%), Get fucked (54%), Fuck off (50%) and Fuck (50%)
  • The least contentious words, rated as Totally or Fairly acceptable, were: Bloody (15%), Bollocks (13%) and Bugger (13%)
  • The order of the words found to be the most offensive to the least offensive remains largely the same as found in 2010 and in 2005
  • There is a slight softening for some of the most offensive words with percentages of acceptability moving 1–5 percentage points but they remain high
  • At the other end of the scale, there has been a slight decline in the acceptability of less offensive words like Bloody and Bugger
  • When comparing the different demographic groups, it is evident that
    • Males tend to be more accepting of the words than females
    • Younger respondents tend to be more accepting than older respondents
    • Those that state they have no religion tend to be more accepting than those of religious belief
    • Those of Māori ethnicity are generally more accepting than those of other ethnicities, while Pacific peoples are less accepting
    • Those on high household incomes tend to be more accepting
  • Respondents were also asked to consider the acceptability of words in 10 different contexts. Some notable patterns that emerged were:
    • Use of ‘bad’ language by radio hosts, in both breakfast programmes and talkback scenarios, is less acceptable than in other scenarios
    • There appears less tolerance for use of ‘bad’ language from real people (as opposed to actors), including interviewees and callers to radio talkback
    • ‘Bad’ language tends to be more acceptable when used after 8:30pm in the context of stand-up comedy and dramas than before 8:30pm
    • ‘Bad’ language tends to be less acceptable in music videos on TV
  • The majority (65%) hold the same views in relation to acceptability of language, irrespective of whether a broadcast is free-to-air or pay-to-view