Monday, June 5, 2017

Swearing as a signal

Signals are convey information only if they are costly to use.  Otherwise, it too difficult to interpret what they mean.

To see this, consider what you learn when you hear someone use the F-word.  Some of my friends use it almost as punctuation, so it means very little.  However, when someone who abhors swearing uses it, I know to pay attention because it is costly for the sender to convey information in this manner.

Analytically, think of the sender as having two potential kinds of information:  crucial information or moderately important information.  Only the sender knows the type of information, and it can be communicated with or without swearing.  It doesn't pay for the sender to incur the costs of swearing to communicate moderately important information.  Rather, swearing is reserved for communicating crucial information.

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