I have good news for foulmouthed people. Although polite society has deemed f-bombs, the notorious c-word, and other assorted curses as verboten, it turns out that swearing is actually good for you.
Keele University’s Dr. Richard Stephens says that swearing is a constructive way to deal with adversity, reports the Toronto Star. “Swearing is not necessarily a negative thing. It can be a linguistic tool when dealing with frustrating events.”
Keele has been studying the benefits of swearing for several years; in 2009 he asked volunteers to put their hands in ice water and then repeat a variety of swear-words. “The people who swore — the f-word and s— were apparently top choices — were able to tolerate the pain of the ice water significantly longer than those only permitted to say neutral words.” Stephens hypothesizes that swearing may be linked to our evolutionary fight or flight response: the brain releases endorphins to reduce pain.
His latest study examines the link between cursing and emotion. “Sixty participants played either a sedate golf video game or a violent shooting one. Then participants were told to write down as many swear words as they could recall in a limited amount of time. Participants shooting video game characters recalled significantly more ‘bad words’ than those playing a leisurely round of video golf.” The results suggest what people probably already suspect: the more agitated you are, the more fluent at cursing you become.
Certain curse-words are so common now, argues linguist Stephen Pinker, that they lose their taboo effect, something for which the late comedian George Carlin would be grateful. Keele’s study doesn’t examine, however, the effect of listening to other people curse (either in real life or on TV shows). For example, in 2010 the Guardian reported that although “36% of the 308 UK senior managers and directors having responded to a survey accepted swearing as part of workplace culture,” an increasing number of workplaces – specifically building sites, notorious for wolf-whistling and cat-calling – have enforced strict policies about abusive language.