To this day, I can still remember when I said my first curse word. I was too young to shower on my own so my mom always brought me in with her. On one fateful morning, I dropped the shampoo bottle mid-shower and uttered, “damn it,” under my breath. Mom promptly reached around me, grabbed a bar of soap and stuck it in my mouth.
This was the most common form of punishment my brothers and I, and I’m sure many of you, experienced when we said something that was deemed distasteful. But no matter how many times I held that bar in my mouth, it didn’t seem to curb my interest towards learning as many “bad words” as possible.
I have since learned to keep my habit in check – something that isn’t overly difficult to do once you put high school behind you. However, I still maintain an interest in trying to establish what indeed makes these words so bad and, moreover, what is to be said about a person who uses them?
I recently came across an article published by “BBC News” that discusses the unforeseen benefits of swearing that span from making us more persuasive to helping relieve pain. This helped to fuel a larger search on the topic. Here are some of my findings:
- It can help to communicate more effectively – Studies have shown that swearing can increase the effectiveness and persuasiveness of a message, especially if used in a positive way in order to take your audience by surprise.
- It is a sign of solidarity – In a surprising turn of events, swearing has been shown to be a form of politeness in certain situations. Some studies, including this one from New Zealand, found that groups of people who work exclusively together swear more among each other than when they are exposed to other groups who work at the same company. This indicates that the curse words were being used to bond members of the team together, ease tensions and equalize members with different levels of responsibility as if to say, “I can curse in front of you because I’m comfortable enough around you to do so.”
- It does not indicate low class – Researchers have proved that the tendency to swear is correlated with verbal fluency and not as a result from having a deficient vocabulary. Additional research has shown that though swearing reduces with increasing social class, the upper middle class swears significantly more than the lower middle class.
- It can increases pain tolerance – In a simple study conducted by psychologist Richard Stephens and his colleagues showed that subjects who repeated a curse word were able to keep their hand in a bucket of ice water longer than those who repeated a natural word. Participants who swore showed an increase in heart rate, suggesting an emotional response to swearing itself, and works as a painkiller.
- It correlates with honesty – Researchers from Stanford, Cambridge and a number of other institutes found that people who curse the most tend to be the most honest. This is attributed to the fact that swearing is used more to express emotion rather than to disparage others, supporting the theory that those who swear tend to allow their true selves to shine through more than those who don’t.
Melissa Mohr, author of “Holy Sh*t: A Brief History on Swearing,” says, “Taboo words are universal. Swearing … fulfills a need we all have as humans.” Now, I’m not suggesting that you enter your next employee meeting firing off one curse word after the other – there is a time and a place for this sort of thing and typically the workplace isn’t one of them. However, the next time you stub your toe, are taken by surprise, are out with a group of friends or just going about your daily life, don’t feel guilty if you let some profanities slip.