Updated: 3 days ago
Ever spilled coffee on yourself and suppressed the urge to say SH*T!... Or maybe you have told someone to F**K OFF when they were threatening you. Perhaps you're trying to get that last rep out in the gym and left out a grunt followed by a string of profanities.
Swearing is a form of linguistic activity that employs taboo words to convey the expression of emotions. These words can shock and upset others, causing a negative stigma around swear words.
Not too long ago, “I’ll wash your mouth out with soap” was a common punishment for a swearing child… nowadays that kind of punishment would probably receive a visit from the child services. No wonder the frequency of swearing is increasing over time.
Many hold a pre-existing assumption that using bad language is maladaptive (I still won’t swear in front of my parents), but recent research suggests there is a good reason for cursing! So, let the obscenity out.
Cursing makes your stronger
Cursing can help in the gym… no really! A recent experiment published in Psychology of Sport and Exercise found using profanities while working out increases your strength. The participants who cursed were able to squeeze the isometric hand-grip device harder and longer than those who did not use bad language.
Cursing increases your pain threshold
Ever been surprised when someone who never uses bad language, hurts themselves and lets out a “f**k” or “s**t”. Research shows that when uttering swear words, people have a higher pain tolerance. So, there’s a good reason for letting the filth fly when you stub your toe after all.
Cursing Increases believability
Interestingly, using swear words increases credibility. One study found showed fake testimonies from victims and suspects to participants and found testimonies containing curse words were perceived as more credible than swear-free testimonies.
Research out of Social Psychological and Personality Science found correlations between honesty and profanity. Their findings suggest people who use swear words more often, have a higher degree of integrity and are less likely to lie.
Be more persuasive
If my time in the military taught me anything… it’s how to swear. From the combat role perspective, swearing is critical to effective communication. It delivers a sense of urgency better than any of language. Here’s an example:
“Get your head down” or “Get the f**k down”
The latter packs more of a punch. However, during my time, I would find myself swearing in every other sentence and, although this wad standard procedure among comrades, as a civilian I had to unlearn these language habits. In other words, I had to train away the potty mouth.
Psycholinguists reported taboo language is a more effective communication strategy using non-taboo words. Also, research published in Communication Studies showed cursing can actually increase the level of persuasiveness to an argument. Further to this, bad language allows us to vent our anger without getting physical.
Choose your context wisely.
Depending on the environment, swear words can be perceived in numerous ways. One study found that the f-word conveyed solidarity and positive politeness within a group of workers but was not appropriate to other groups in the same organization. Another study found colleagues who used foul language in a formal meeting were perceived as incompetent by their co-workers.
What about the children?
Data shows that children as young as two use swear words and can know up to 40 swear words by the time they start school. By age 12, their swearing becomes adult-like. The author of Swearing is Good for You thinks parents and caregivers are doing a disservice to kids by protecting them from bad language. She recommends naming swear words and talking openly about them before they come across them in context in the big bad world. Perhaps open discussion is more of a shield from profanity than banning swearing altogether.
Those potty mouth extroverts! Cursing is positively correlated with extroversion but negatively correlated with agreeableness, conscientiousness, religiosity, and anxiety. Although the relationships are tricky to pick apart because of the complex range of meaning and uses between swear words.
Bottom line: swearing may produce a catharsis-effect (venting aggression), increase pain threshold, and relieve stress. It could also influence the perceived credibility, believability, and persuasiveness of the user. In addition, swearing can increase group solidarity, prevent violence, and create a sense of urgency in threatening situations.
However, swearing in the wrong context can harm the way you are perceived by others and may reduce your chances of promotion. Also, children pick up swear words at a young age, so rather than shielding them from the language, maybe more open discussion about swear words and their meaning Is better for kids than learning it in the school playground.
Profanity is etched into the history of language, and probably here to stay. So, the next time someone criticizes you for having a potty mouth, take it as a compliment (or tell them to f**k off). If you can’t control your foul language and it’s become an unhelpful habit, maybe you should employ a few techniques to break the behavior (check out this article). Otherwise, only curse when really appropriate so you are not wasting the energy the word delivers.