Profanity. The English language is replete with millions of refined words accumulated over hundreds of years, yet profanity never fails to escape our mouths at the slightest provocation.
When I was ten, I kept hearing about this F-word that everyone was talking about. It was supposed to be the worst bad word ever with a meaning so dark, it beat out the likes of words such as moron, idiot, and imbecile. After pleading with my parents to tell me the meaning, I learned the word was essentially just a vulgar way of saying sexual intercourse. And this illumination came with the exhortation to my brother and I to never use the word, which we don’t till this day. My reasons for not using swear words – simply because they sound unpleasant and I think it is just a waste of language. But I am surrounded by people who use these harsh words which have led to often ask myself, what would the world be like without swearing? Hopefully less brash. So, why do we swear?
It is shockingly interesting to see how ingrained this habit is even among young children. Hearing eleven-year-old kids in the school-bus use swear words in each sentence or have every second word be an F-bomb is not music to my ears. But what relief does that eleven-year-old child, or every other person out there who swears, get from swearing? In a study conducted to see how long college students could keep their hands immersed in cold water, the students were given a choice to either repeat an expletive word of their choice or chant a neutral word. The students who swore said that they felt less pain and were able to keep their hand in longer for about 40 seconds compared to the other group. It’s rather interesting to see a psychologist such as Richard Stephens say that, “I would advise people, if they hurt themselves, to swear.
Language is so beautiful. There are other words you could use to express just how much passion you’re experiencing. You don’t have to use the F-word to always display your emotion.
Swearing allows us to express a range of emotions from anger to sadness to happiness to
pure bliss. As Timothy Jay, a psychologist at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts says, “It’s like the horn on your car, you can do a lot of things with that, it’s built into you.” However, psychologist Richard Stephens warns us that the more swearing we do, the less emotion it holds and without the emotional backing, it doesn’t really help soothe our pain. In fact Harvard professor, Steven Pinker did a study that found that people who swore up to 60 times a day did not experience any “relief” from the swear words due to the weakening of the emotional response in the brain because of repeated “exposure”. In a study done by the University of Arizona that piggy-backed on Richard Stephen’s research, they found some interesting results on the “social cost” of swearing. They looked at women suffering from breast cancer or rheumatoid arthritis. These women wore recorders so that researchers could note their use of foul language around friends and family. They found that the woman who curse or simply uttered words like “c**p” received less support from loved ones. This experiment lent support to the hypothesis that people are turned off by the use of swear words.
People tend to swear because it’s just ubiquitous in the environment they surround themselves in. Language expert, James V. Connor said that “People who swear often tend to be disagreeable, critical, cynical, angry, argumentative, and unhappy complainers,”, though to what extent that is true, one wouldn’t really know.
As I have heard my fair share of swearing at SAS, I decided to ask some of my friends who do swear, not necessarily F-bombs, on their opinion on swearing and here’s what one of them had to say.
Anna Lategan, a junior, said “I don’t like swearing. If the moment accounts for it, that’s fine, such as if you get hurt or scared. It’s a reaction, even I do that. But I don’t like people who use it in every single sentence. It’s unnecessary. Language is so beautiful. There are other words you could use to express just how much passion you’re experiencing. You don’t have to use the F-word to always display your emotion.”
I can’t tell people not to swear. But I can hope that one day we will live in a world free of profanity and unpleasant words. Until then, I just hope it doesn’t come to a point where an infant’s first word is the F-bomb.