Psychology of Swearing
Life Style

Psychology of Swearing


Swearing refers to the use of specific, emotionally loaded and negatively charged terms that have the potential to be offensive and inappropriate. Swear words are considered taboo in any language, and we grow up being discouraged from using them. However, the psychological impact of swearing is immense.

But, curse words are powerful. They are used to indicate a host of emotions, from anger, frustration, and rage to surprise, joy, and excitement. Research says that it produces a range of psychological, physiological, and emotional effects, and it can actually be beneficial in certain ways. Despite being taught not to curse throughout our childhoods, a lot of adults resort to swearing. However, research shows that it might not be such a bad thing. Let’s look at some of the ways in which swearing impacts our brain activity and benefits us.

Types of Swearing

We tend to swear in two distinctive scenarios. The two kinds of swearing are – First, one that results from annoyance, such as yelling a curse word when you stub your toe. The purpose of this kind is primarily personal. It provides emotional relief and is a form of stress management. Second, social swearing. Its purpose is usually intrapersonal and it serves the functions of group bonding.

Features and Benefits of Swearing:

1. A Sign of Intelligence:

Usually, society considers swearing to be vulgar, and a sign of low intelligence. After all, if you have a rich vocabulary and can use eloquent speech, why would you rely on rude language? But on the contrary, swearing might indicate verbal superiority. An experiment found that there’s a correlation between people who are good at language and who are good at generating a swearing vocabulary. Swearing is also associated with social intelligence, as it takes cognitive skills to determine where and when it’s appropriate to swear and when it’s not.

Read More: Intelligence Quotient vs. Emotional Quotient: Definition, Comparison and Variations

2. A Sign of Honesty:

Research has also found an association between profanity and honesty. The results of a study from 2017 indicated that people who curse more, tend to lie less at an interpersonal level. Intuitively thinking, if you express your emotions with powerful words seems to be because you are expressing them honestly.

3. It can help with pain tolerance:

Swearing can induce the fight or flight response of the body leading to a surge of adrenaline release. That has an analgesic (pain-killing) effect. An experiment showed how people who swear a few times a day could hold their hands in ice water for about twice as long as those who don’t swear. But it was also found that cursing too much could make it lose its pain-relieving powers, as the body gets desensitised and stops producing the stress response.

4. It gives you power and control:

In a bad situation when we are suffering, swearing can give us power and control back to us. It helps us reassure ourselves that we are not merely passive victims but can respond to the situation and are ready to fight back. It boosts our confidence in our abilities to handle the situation and motivates us to take corrective action.

Read More: The Psychology Behind Power

5. It is a non-violent response when upset:

Profanity allows us an alternative to resorting to physical violence when we are scared or angry. It is better to throw expletives than punches. It prevents people from causing others physical harm which might be severe and irreparable. Cursing at them can act as an outlet for all our negative emotions and prove to be a cathartic experience. Indeed, swearing is also hurtful, but it is a better vent for anger than physical aggression, the repercussions of the former are significantly lower.

Read More: The Hidden Scars of Witnessing Domestic Violence in Childhood

6. It can lead to humour and social bonding:

Amongst friends and in casual settings, swearing can be a source of humour. It can be an escape from the general constraints of society and can lighten up potentially threatening situations. In fact, amongst friends, swearing can indicate that you are open, comfortable, and honest about your feelings. However, swear words must only be used as exclamations or if directed at others, must be in a humorous manner.

Read More: What is Comedy Therapy?

It has physiological benefits as well. Swearing also has certain health benefits, it can result in increased circulation, and elevated endorphins, and can leave you feeling calm.

Conclusion: A word of caution

Although we have looked at how swearing can be potentially beneficial, we must not forget that it is considered socially unacceptable for good reason. It is only advisable to swear sparingly, otherwise, it can have significant negative impacts too. Cursing too much can lead you to develop a habit, which is hard to break. It can be irritating for others to hear and can land you in sticky situations if you end up saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. For example, you end up blurting a swear word in a meeting with your boss. You might regret it for a long time to come, and it can have unintended consequences.

You must be especially careful not to use profanity in moments of anger. Marriage counsellors often advise their clients not to use swear words even when they are in the midst of a bitter fight. Calling a loved one a derogatory curse word can be intensely wounding to them, something they might never be able to forget. It is similarly damaging for children to hear swear words yelled at them by parents in a fit of rage. Words have a serious effect on our moods, and unregulated profanity can create an environment of negativity. Thus, even though swear words hold significant benefits, they must be used only occasionally, and never directed at other persons, especially in tense situations.

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