You’ve just stubbed your toe. There’s a 90% chance that you’ve broken it. That sick feeling rises in your throat. What do you do next?
- Nothing. I’ve got stuff to do – didn’t even hurt that much anyway.
- Cry. A big ugly cry.
- Swear: that really fucking hurt.
If you chose number 1 – who even are you? If a big ugly cry is more your thing, then that’s ok. If you chose option 3, then you’re probably super intelligent, emotionally stable, plus you’ve just given yourself some free pain relief!
Who needs paracetamol?
Cold? Reel off a list of expletives
Psychologist Richard Stephens of Keele University conducted a study in which he measured how long college students could keep their hands immersed in cold water. Students were asked to repeat an expletive of their choice or chant a neutral word. The students who chose to swear reported less pain and on average endured about 40 seconds longer. Stephens’ advice is: “If you hurt yourself, swear.”
This kind of reaction is similar to our ‘fight or flight’ reaction. Sometimes the swear just slips out – it’s almost a reflex. If you tend to swear only occasionally it’s likely to help you deal with your pain more efficiently. But if you swear a lot, it probably won’t help your stubbed toe that much. Sorry, Danny Dyer.
Who needs a psychologist?
Normally us humans find it difficult to say what we actually think. If you’re British, talking about how you feel is made even harder – stiff upper lip, and all that shit.
So, we may not be able to pour our hearts out directly but we might be doing it unconsciously, through our swearing.
When we’re feeling particularly emotional (Monday morning traffic jam, for example), we turn into seasoned blasphemers, able to produce a larger amount of swear words and expressions in a minute. See, us Brits do have bloody emotions.
It feels really fucking empowering
In an article for Elle magazine, Monica Corcoran Harel says:
“I can easily summon every sense in play the first time I cursed. It was a humid summer night. I was about seven years old, sitting between my brother and sister in the backseat of our forest green station wagon. A tear in the vinyl upholstery nagged at my bare thigh. The blood-sugar fallout from too many Junior Mints and Twizzlers at a drive-in movie made us all punchy, erratic. We were a family of tiger sharks, hardwired to attack. My brother suddenly elbowed me hard, and I turned and hissed, “Fuck you.” He gasped. The wagon swerved. Without turning around, my dad reached his open hand back into the dark and smacked me in the ear. It didn’t sting. Not even the thunk of his gold college ring could make me wince. I felt only exhilaration.”
It’s almost like a rite of passage. Like birth, puberty, marriage and death, swearing properly for the first time changes us. Try and say you didn’t feel fantastic after emitting your first swear. The sheer relief of releasing the expletive that you’ve tried so hard to contain for most of your childhood – what a high! Welcome to the adult world – you’re going to hate it.
User research to the rescue
I wanted to see what other people thought about swearing, so I asked my Facebook friends this question:
And received some pretty impressive – and brutally honest – replies.
Another friend added that swearing is almost a universal language – everyone seems to be able to communicate through swears.
Some people have an issue with the C-bomb:
Admittedly, it isn’t cheerful, but it has been around for quite a while. Way back when – literally in the middle ages – there was a street in London called Gropecunt Lane. Apparently it was normal to name a street after its purpose, and the lane was a street of prostitution, so actually it seems somewhat appropriate.
Although it was once commonly used throughout England, the C-bomb became an insult and a derogatory way to describe women. Understandably, women were pretty pissed about this, so attitudes began to change over time, resulting in it being bowdlerised and replaced by safe versions like Grape Lane. The last variation of Gropecunt was recorded in 1561.
Do you swear shyly or loud and proudly?
Would you swear in front of your parents? Or in a meeting at work? Tell us how you feel about using ‘bad’ language and whether you’ve ever changed your mind about swear words.