Why do we swear?

Why do we swear?
By Marion Brownlie ©
Swearing is the use of curse words, obscenities, bad language, strong language, coarse language, foul language, bad words, vulgar, swearing, cursing, cussing, or using expletives. When these taboo words get over used they lose their power, getting weaker and new ones coming in to replace them. Curse words tend to be based on whatever societies find most taboo, and most scary. Words such as bastard or whoreson, are now relatively mild curses but were the height of taboo even as recently as 40 or 50 years ago.
Why do we swear. Well I’m darned if I know why. All I know is that rightly or wrongly I do sometimes. It makes me feel better. Yes swearing is often cathartic. It releases the energy behind a forceful emotion and knows no social boundaries in its use.

Swear words are taboo words taken from aspects of our culture. They express the extreme emotions of pain, anger, control, frustration, joy, surprise, humour, fear, social bonding and nonphysical retribution. That may be mildly offensive to extremely offensive depending on how the person hearing them views them. A very religious person may consider the blasphemous ‘goddamn’ as the worst of the worst swear word yet another mightn’t even consider it a swear word.

The health benefits of swearing include increased circulation, elevated endorphins, and an overall sense of calm, control, and well-being. Maybe by swearing occasionally you can finally stop buying neurofen in bulk! The key is to swear sparingly and not to get angry at the same time, which can be very destructive for you as anger, especially if held, is a very destructive energy or force. When hurt, swearing activates the so-called ‘fight or flight’ response, leading to a surge of adrenaline and a corresponding analgesic effect. Richard Stephens of Keele University in England found that people who swear are able to hold their hands in ice-water for twice as long. However, this only holds for people who swear a few times a day, not for so-called ‘chain-swearers’. Presumably chain-swearers are desensitized to their swearing, and so not particularly aroused by it. It remains unclear whether some swear words are more effective than others. But it seems very likely.

Our society particularly says don’t swear front of your kids. Punching, stealing and lying are behaviours we consider “wrong” for valid reasons, most of them involving someone getting hurt on some level or another, sometimes themselves. Why is swearing “wrong” exactly? Is it because it’s “not nice?” “because I said so” or “because some people might get offended.” None of these reasons carry any real weight, in my opinion. People can choose to be offended or not, however it serves them to be. None of these reasons ‘hold water’ especially when virtually all people swear. People swear consistently throughout their lifetime — from the moment they can speak to the day they die. Swearing is almost a universal constant in most people’s lives. Research, according to Jay T, has shown we swear on average from 0.3% to 0.7% of the time. It is a tiny but significant percentage of our overall speech.

A very touchy subject is swearing around kids. Rather than getting your nickers in a twist over someone swearing in front of a child you could be well advised to help the child understand when swearing is appropriate and when it is not. This then helps the child to understand and demonstrate the rules of etiquette dictated by society, as in which behaviours are appropriate under which circumstances: “You can say these words at home, but you will be in trouble if you say them at Sunday school.” I personally consider it a waste time and effort instilling values in kids that we ourselves don’t always follow. This behaviour of “do as I say not do as I do” causing adults to appear very hypercritical to children.

When telling a story with a swear word, it leave you feeling you have just wasted your breath when the recipient of the story immediately picks up on the swear word and intervenes saying “don’t swear in front of the kids.” They might as well have said “I’m not interested and not listening”.

Common swear words can have a sexual references such as ‘fuck’. People will often reserve the use of this word for when they are in same sex company but will temper the use when at work or in public and replace it with ‘darn it’.
However if a person is startled, gets a fright or is hurt the F word may be dropped regardless. “Fuck you! Represents a greater level of anger than “get stuffed!” On the other side of the coin ‘fucking fantastic’ expresses for more than “that’s great”. Swear words are used to convey emotional reactions.

Other forms of swearing include:

1. To have great reliance on or confidence in: He swears by his personal physician.
2. To have reliable knowledge of; be sure of: I think she left early, but I couldn’t swear by it.

3. To take an oath by: He swore by all the angels and saints of heaven.

swear in
To administer a legal or official oath to: swear in a mayor.

swear off Informal
To pledge to renounce or give up: She has sworn off cigarettes.

swear out Law
To obtain (a warrant for arrest) by making a charge under oath.

4 Comments

  1. Andrew Lawry

    Nice work. I did see that study about ice cold water. I find it’s like drinking coffee. I rarely drink coffee, and get a real buzz and enjoyment when I do. Once I was on maybe 10 cups a day (That’s when I was with Clare P.) You know it didn’t do much for me, but when I had to do without, I learnt what addiction was. See the connection?

    I enjoyed your lecture. Best wishes, Andrew

    Reply
    1. Marion (Post author)

      Thanks Andrew. A good analogy with the coffee!

      Reply
  2. mia johnson

    Gosh darn it, Marion…..no
    seriously, it’d sound like me with a little curse here and there
    my bad
    best wishes
    Namaste mia

    Reply
    1. Marion (Post author)

      Yes a little curse here and there defiantly helps.

      Reply

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