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Healing Power of Swearing

Only a year ago, OmniNerds argued over the concept of swear words and the illusion of decency versus the community standard. There seems to be a new wrinkle in favor of swearing – pain tolerance. Dr. Richard Stephens from Keele’s School of Psychology conducted experiments subjecting people to pain and having them utter swear words and adjectives describing a table. His finding was that virtually everyone who swore was able to endure pain for an additional forty-five seconds. He believes there may be an innate link to the persistence of humans swearing over the centuries when hurt as a method of exhibiting aggression to trigger a fight or flight response in themselves. Dr. Stephens cautions against the overuse of casual swearing though as “swearing is emotional language but if you overuse it, it loses its emotional attachment” and reduces the pain reducing effect.

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I wonder if words like “freak,” “crap” or “dang it” would work. It seems as long as they are emotional expressions by the speaker, then they’d be just as good as the more “colorful” ones.

But then, going back to the meat of the previous discussion, if they are emotionally the same, is the morality involved different? I guess it’d have to come down to differences in how the words affect those around you …

Perhaps people who swear a lot in their everyday life are in some sort of constant psychological pain that gets some relief from this emotional language?


Are they sure its not just the distraction from what is causing the pain that produces these results? In other words, would doing something like eating your favorite food or some other positive distraction cause the same pain relief?

Let me begin that I really liked Brandon’s and gnifyus’s comments (Nerd up).

So I read the short BBC article that you linked to and while I don’t necessarily disagree with the possible conclusions listed in the article, it seems so inconclusive.

64 volunteers asked to do the “test” two different ways… and then averaged the results.

First of all the standard is not controlled and second lends itself to bias and third the population sample is relatively small (I mean you could only find 64 people at a university to do this). For instance if I were one of the 64 I could try and bias my tolerance toward my particular moral standard. The other thing here, as Brandon and Gnifyus point out in there comments, is that there are so many variables in play that are hard to isolate and control.

Like I said, I really not disagree here but find the conclusions a bit presumptuous although the article does say that they really do not know how or why a link exists. I’d go further and say that they are not sure that there is a link.

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Little listeners by Anonymous

Ha-ha.. I have a two year old and when it comes to swearing for me, it’s “fudge”, “shoot” and “dang it”..

He’s just a little sponge right now so I have to be careful..

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Social Norms by Occams

I am presently performing a UN org assistance mission to Port Moresby, which is the Capital of Papua New Guinea, a fascinating country that most Americans have probably not heard about since World War Two. A few miles north east of here was where the Japanese advance south through the Pacific was first halted and turned back – mostly by heroic Australian Army reservists – along the infamous Kokoda Trail.

The local language is a colorful mix of native words and colonial era English (and some German), often including the swear words commonly used by foreigners living here (particularly Australians) during the colonial period.

I was rather taken aback when, with a female colleague, I was visiting the chairman of a major company, a very distinguished local gentleman. He politely suggested that we should now “fuck off to lunch”. He was not trying to be crude or funny, just using a common expression. The local news papers contain similar language.

I think that this demonstrates that there is nothing intrinsically bad about swearing. It all depends on context and social norms.

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