Part 6 of derogatory terms survey: Hypotheses 2, 3, and 4

H2: Education and acceptable use

Restatement of hypothesis: As education increases, acceptable use of the word decreases.  It has been noted in previous studies that individuals with higher levels of educations tend to be more socially liberal and tolerant of other cultures and ideas.

Did not complete high school High school diploma or GED Some college Bachelor’s degree Graduate degree
total number 1 26 112 126 55
Nigger: ok to insult 0 3 (12%) 11 (10%) 0 1 (2%)
Slut: ok to insult 1 8 (31%) 25 (22%) 22 (17%) 7 (13%)
Faggot: ok to insult 0 1 (4%) 6 (5%) 3 (2%) 4 (7%)


This hypothesis seems to be supported at least with the words nigger and slut.  The word faggot didn’t show a large difference in opinion from one level of education to the next.  The 7% of people with a graduate degree who said that faggot was ok to insult or use as a descriptor could be because of the small number of people who responded who had graduate degrees.

H3: Time and acceptable use

Restatement of hypothesis:  Populations with a longer civil rights history and more protection laws on the books will have lower acceptable use.  It stands to reason that words that are associated with groups who have campaigned longer, socially and legally, will be rated as less acceptable than others.  From least to most acceptable: nigger, slut, faggot.


  • Nigger 15 out of 320 (5%)
  • Slut 63 out of 320 (20%)
  • Faggot 14 out of 320 (4%)

The hypothesis was not supported.  Slut, which refers to women who have the second longest equality campaign, rated the highest, with 20% of respondents indicating it was ok to describe or insult a person using the word slut.  A larger and more varied sample size might yield different results.  Also, it’s important to note that slut is the only word that refers to women almost exclusively while nigger and faggot could refer to either a man or a woman.  So one possible reason for this result could be that men found words less acceptable that targeted groups they do belong to or could belong to.  It could also mean that a woman’s perceived promiscuity is still problematic in American society.

H4: Age and acceptable use

Restatement of hypothesis:  As age increases, acceptable use of the word increases.  Older people tend to cling to “tradition” or older ways of thinking.  It would stand to reason that if you were growing up during a time when racism was acceptable, that you be more likely to consider the word nigger acceptable to use.  The same with slut and faggot.

18-25 26-35 36-45 46-55 56 and up
total number 46 127 76 42 29
Nigger: ok to insult 1 (2%) 10 (8%) 4 (5%) 0 0
Slut: ok to insult 10 (22%) 30 (24%) 12 (16%) 7 (17%) 4 (14%)
Faggot: ok to insult 2 (4%) 7 (6%) 3 (4%) 1 (2%) 1 (3%)


This hypothesis was also not supported by the data.  This again could be due to the small number of respondents.  With each word, the opposite of the hypothesis seems to be true, with older individuals the least likely to find these words acceptable to use as an insult.  The 26-35 age range had the highest percentage of individuals who said these words were ok to use as an insult for all three words.

Are there any defining characteristics?

Straight, white men stuck out as the group most likely to use these words as insults or descriptors.  7 out of 15 (50%) who said it was ok to use nigger as an insult or descriptor were straight, white men.  10 out of 14 (71%) who said it was ok to use faggot as an insult or descriptor were straight, white men.  There was a greater variety of individuals who felt that slut was ok to used as an insult or descriptor.  27 out of 63 (43%) who said it was ok to use the word slut as an insult or descriptor were straight and white (14 women and 13 men).  The largest group of people who said that it was ok to use slut as an insult were straight people.  46 out of 63 (73%) identified as straight.  Based on these numbers, it seems that people who are straight and white are more likely to use these words as insults.  The next set of questions to ask ourselves is what does this say about the tolerance of straight, white Americans and how can we change the negative attitudes this group has towards other groups?

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