Does swearing fulfill a need?
I have a daughter who swears like a sailor and it always takes me by surprise. I have a friend who uses the F word loudly and often. I swear rarely and only when I’m REALLY FRUSTRATED or REALLY ANGRY. When my daughter and my friend swear I’m fine with it, it even amuses me sometimes, but I am aware that many other people are offended by it.
Swear words, by definition, are meant to be offensive. If a swear word becomes too acceptable, it falls out of favor as a legitimate expletive (I think “damn” is an example of that). Being offensive is not the only feature of a swear word. One can be offensive to others using unattractive, derogatory language but not swear words. Swear words hold emotion and can be centered on taboo topics such as sex, religion and bathroom issues.
Why do people swear?
- To get someone’s attention.
- To emphasize a point.
- As an outlet for strong emotions like joy or surprise.
- To express negative emotions such as anger, pain, frustration or pain.
- To get someone to back off without resorting to physical violence.
- To be naughty and break a taboo.
- To relieve stress.
- To camouflage fear or insecurity by acting ‘macho’.
- And sometimes people just get into the habit of using expletives and forget their impact on others.
Studies have shown that swearing has benefits:
- It can increase the impact of a message.
- It can increase pain tolerance. *(See note below)
- It can be cathartic.
- It can create a bond with fellow workers (particularly among men) when the swearing is good natured and about a shared experience.
Disadvantages of swearing:
- Swearing can reflect poorly on those who engage in it. Studies show swearers are thought of as less competent, less educated and less credible.
- Swearers can come across as disagreeable.
- Swearing can be disrespectful if it is upsetting to someone.
Profile of a swearer:
Contrary to popular opinion, studies show that the tendency to swear has a correlation with verbal fluency. Stephens found that swearing is more prevalent in the upper middle class than the lower middle class.
A Marist College study showed that intelligent people use more swear words. In one experiment researchers had 43 participants come up with as many swear words and animal names as possible in one minute. They came up with 533 taboo words. The participants who came up with the most words tested at a higher level of vocabulary. This debunks the theory that people who use swear words are unable to come up with more intelligent ways to express themselves.
Personality research shows that people who swear often score higher as Type A personalities and extroverts, and possess some domination and hostility traits.
In the Association of Psychological Science’s Perspectives on Psychological Science article written by Timothy Jay, Jay writes “Swearing is like using the horn on your car, which can be used to signify a number of emotions”.
* Richard Stephens, a psychologist, showed in a study that students who swore repeatedly could keep their hand in a bucket of ice water longer than those who repeated a neutral word. Those students also had increased heart rates when they swore.