Recently one of our international students wrote a paper on the famous British chef Gordon Ramsay, and his equally renowned use of swear words.
Gordon Ramsay is the epitome of a heavenly combination of two of my favourite things in life: Food and entertainment. He has made an empire for himself out of his passion for cooking in a career that comprises world-famous restaurants and numerous cooking shows such as Hell’s Kitchen where he conveniently seeks out his next Head Chef for his establishments while entertaining all of us. However, he is not without his detractors. Many have written about his penchant for peppering his words on screen with a less than savoury choice of words (Jancelewicz, 2014). He is also no stranger to public complaints (Kelly, 2009) and other consequences (Walsh, 2008) caused by the amount of profanities he uses on his shows. As such, I was interested in investigating exactly what kinds of profanities Gordon Ramsay used most frequently on his show and how he might have changed his language use over time.
There are numerous theories and explanations proposed for why people use profanities and what factors affect their choice of words and frequency of usage. One theory explains that the use of profanities are often used “for their emotional impact on people rather than their literal or denotative interpretation” (Jay, 1992). Thus, an examination of the usage of profanities by Ramsay should be looked at in context to determine the influence of various factors on his language patterns and choice of words.
Additionally, according to the Neuro-Psycho-Social Theory of Cursing (Jay, 1999a), there are three interdependent systems that help to explain why people use profanities and what kinds of profanities they use. The three systems are neurological, psychological, and socio-cultural. For this investigation, there are two different socio-cultural push factors that can be considered. The first is Howard Giles’ (1991) accommodation theory: If Ramsay is facing public pressure and backlash throughout the years due to his use of profanities, accommodation theory suggests that he would reduce his frequency in order to be more well-liked by his audience who do not subscribe to the same language ideas as him.
Timothy Jay (1999b) adds another dimension to this theory with the idea that “speech restrictions affect speakers personally” and that cultural restrictions manifesting as public complaints, boycotts, a lack of support for Ramsay’s opening of a new restaurant, would cause him to reduce the use of profanities for more economic reasons.
There are also some articles and theories that suggest reasons for Ramsay’s continued use of profanities. Word Frequency Effect (Taft, 1979) theorises that individuals can recognise words quicker if they are words that are used in high frequency. Working at a high-end restaurant requires precision and accuracy in timing. Hence, Ramsay might rely on high frequency and emotive words in the form of profanities to constantly push the contestants on his cooking shows.
Finally, John Edwards (2009) states that “a language or dialect, though it may be lacking in general social prestige, may nevertheless function as a powerful bonding agent, providing a sense of identity”. This suggests that Ramsay, doesn’t use profanities despite the consequences, but that he uses profanities especially because he knows of its effects and the perception others’ may have. In other words, he may deliberately use profanities to distance himself from the contestants and isolate himself into a clearly different social group.
Since Ramsay is not just a chef but a celebrity chef that relies heavily on branding and creating a unique identity, my hypothesis is that in spite of the constant sociological pressure, Ramsay’s frequency of profanities will see an overall increase.
Data was collected from 11 out of a total of 14 seasons of Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen (US Edition). The chosen seasons corresponded to particular years, with each year from 2005 to 2015 having data represented from one season even if there were two seasons that year. Only the period of the show known as “Kitchen Service” in every third episode of each season was examined. “Kitchen Service” is when the contestants are required to work in teams to cook and serve guests of the Hell’s Kitchen restaurant. This period was considered as having begun from the moment that Ramsay speaks to the contestants to brief them before Kitchen Service, and ends when he dismisses them from Kitchen Service to discuss nominees for elimination. The number of profanities and its variations uttered by Ramsay were then recorded. These profanities included “fuck”, “arse”, “shit”, “piss”, “dickhead” and the grammatical variations of these words.
Discussion and Conclusion
Based on the results, the data is too limited to conclude that there was a significant increase in the total number of profanities used over the years. The curve of the graph on Ramsay’s frequency of profanities seems to suggest a stable variation that varies in usage from year to year. In terms of the distribution between variables, he uses “fuck” and its grammatical variations the most frequently.
A closer look at some dips in frequency such as the lowest usage in 2011 shows that the reason for the reduction was due to the presence of children for that episode. With reference to the Neuro-Psycho-Social Theory of Cursing (Jay, 1999a), this result emphasises the need to examine the specific contexts in order to gain meaningful conclusions. There did not seem to be any socio-cultural reason observed as to why Ramsay’s preferred profanity was “fuck” and this suggests that the choice of words might be based on a different aspect. One possible hypothesis could be that the word was in vogue during Ramsay’s teenage years where he might have picked up on profanities. More investigation into speaker-design might yield more results on the underlying factors behind word choice and even frequency.
Timothy Jay (1999b) on the idea of cultural restrictions affecting speech patterns also reinforces the need for closer analysis for the various contexts. This is because cultural restrictions can manifest in a myriad of forms and interact with each other for a spectrum of effects. For example, in the balance between the social pressure to conform to “polite language” and the need to distinguish one’s identity via language, which one tips the balance for Ramsay? Would this balance also vary through the seasons or would it be consistent? Further investigation is needed for progress in these questions.
By Cherylyn Wee
Edwards, J. (2009). Language and Identity: An introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fairman, C. (2009). Fuck: Word Taboo and Protecting our First Amendment Liberties. Illinois: Sourcebooks.
Gile, H., J. C., & Coupland, N. (1991). Contexts of Accommodation: Developments in Applied Sociolinguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Jancelewicz, C. (2014, June 25). Gordon Ramsay Swearing, Yelling, And Basically Destroying Human Souls (GIFs). Retrieved from Huffington Post TV Canada: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/06/25/gordon-ramsay-kitchen-nightmares-best-gifs-sayings_n_5530318.html
Jay, T. (1992). Cursing in America: A Psycholinguistic Study of Dirty Language in the Courts, in the Movies, in the Schoolyards, and on the Streets. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.
Jay, T. (1999). Why We Curse: A neuro-psycho-social theory of speech. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing.
Kelly, T. (2009, February 2). Foul-mouthed Gordon Ramsay in hot water after viewers subjected to a swear word every two-and-a-half seconds in show. Retrieved from Daily Mail UK: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1133317/Foul-mouthed-Gordon-Ramsay-hot-water-viewers-subjected-swear-word-half-seconds-show.html
Walsh, J. (2008, April 1). Ramsay vows to forswear bad language after he gets the brush-off from Australia. Retrieved from Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/this-britain/ramsay-vows-to-forswear-bad-language-after-he-gets-the-brush-off-from-australia-803097.html