Swearing like a trucker has often been looked down upon, but let’s be honest, it weirdly makes us feel minutely better, whether we’ve just stubbed our toe or we accidentally deleted the work we’ve been doing for the past hour or simply have forgotten to pick up cat food. Author Noah Berlatsky’s wife even goes so far as to swear in front of her 12-year-old son (“Are you fucking kidding me?!”) according to a post on Quartz, suggesting “earmuffs” and their ilk are pretty passe.
In fact, cursing might have the potential to usher world peace. Michael Adams, whose resume boasts a stint as a president of the Dictionary Society of North America, has published a book — In Praise of Profanity — on the sweetness of swearing, arguing it brings individuals together: We all know that it’s considered rude and socially unacceptable, so by engaging in that behavior with another human, you automatically foster a bond that’s far more intimate than a simple “what’s up”:
“Bad words are unexpectedly useful in fostering human relations because they carry risk….We like to get away with things and sometimes we do so with like-minded people.”
Adams also hat-tips humans who find themselves liberally peppering their speech with four-letter words and their smite-y rhetorical cousins because they require a deftness of speech that prove you’re actually a wordsmith. It ain’t easy putting together a soliloquy with all your favorite eyebrow-raising cursers, but if done correctly, you can call yourself a goddamn Shakespeare, thank-you-very-fucking-much.
This isn’t the first time science has looked to swearing with googly eyes of admiration. Philosopher Rebecca Roache tackled the question of what makes swearing so satisfying in a piece for Aeon, where she concludes that swearing offers some psychological boost thanks to its mix of taboo and anger: Your brain’s emotional processing center, the amygdala, channels your feelings and shoots a signal to your body to prepare for an onslaught of ferocity.
Swearing can be a fucking medical miracle. A 2011 study had two groups of participants stick their hands into icy water; one was allowed to swear, the other was not. The one that could bust out a choice curse or seven was able to withstand the freezing water for longer — but saying “fuck” a gazillion times in a row basically did nothing. Lesson: Sprinkle your swears carefully and with precision.
So the conclusion from science, linguistics, and philosophy seems to suggest this: Swear to build community, but not so much to break your ability to deal with the shitstorm called life. You might look like an ass, but you’ve got science on your side, sailor.
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