My first experience with partaking in the crass entertainment of the verbal art know as profanity was, like most people I know, a parroted response that I had picked up from spending time with adults. My education in profanity is most apparent from the years I spent visiting my grandparents. My grandmother had a gift for dropping things in the kitchen and then cursing under her breath as the dropped item clanged, crashed, or shattered on the floor. When my brother and I would hear these words our eyes would grow in “she said a swear” surprise and then we would start to giggle, which seems to be the standard when for people who choose not partake in profanity. Every time I swear around my non-swearing friends, family, strangers… the random religion peddler that knocks on my door, they always giggle when I include profanity in my conversations with them, which let’s face it, only encourages me to swear more around them… and Smirk.
Swearing or not swearing is usually a choice. Some reject it on grounds of being offensive, which never made much sense to me since the most offensive things I’ve ever heard in my life had no profanity in them what so ever. Other people embrace profanity and make it apart of their everyday vocabulary. There are however some situations where swearing becomes more reactionary than choice.
For example, the first time I said shit was a result of me hitting my thumb with a hammer. The pain shot to my brain and my brain responded by making me yell “shit” very loudly without consulting me first to see if I was ok with that. The fact that I had sworn so proficiently and with no effort on my part was more surprising to me than the pain from smashing my thumb… at least for a while.
Likewise, I have heard stories were a fair amount of colorful metaphors are loudly flung at every person in the delivery room from the lady in the metal stirrups in the middle of the room. Granted most of these words are directed toward the man that had assisted in getting her is this current situation, but I’ve also been told that anyone who says “breathe” to the expectant mother is usually met with insinuations that they belong to the canine family, are of the female persuasion, and had better “shut it.” Turns out there is probably a good chance that none of that profanity was intended to be hurtful, quite the opposite actually, at least according to a new study I read about in Time this past week, profanity reduces pain.
Richard Stephens, a psychologist at Keele University in England, published a study where he took 67 students and had them stick their hands in cold water; bloody cold water at that. Just for the record these students were volunteers as opposed to having Stephens randomly kidnapping students and having them place their hands in cold water while they slept, which I think produces entirely different results… and a court hearing. During this exercise they students would chant a non-swear word while their hand was immersed in the cold water. They would pull their hand out of the water once the pain got too much for them to handle.
During round two, after their fingers and hands had returned to their normal temperature, the students were asked to say a profanity of their choice over and over again while their hand was immerged the cold water. The result, the students said the pain was less and on an average the students endured the cold 40 seconds longer than they did when they were not swearing.
What words of wisdom did Stephens offer after he had completed his study? “I would advise people, if they hurt themselves, to swear.”
So the next time you get up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, or get a midnight snack, or for whatever reason and you accidentally stub your toe in the dark, follow the example of Ralphie of A Christmas Story fame and just say it:
“Oooh fuuudge! Only I didn’t say “Fudge.” I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the ‘F-dash-dash-dash’ word!”
It may not be polite, or “civilized speech,” or the type of language a good person should use, but it will help you feel better, damn it.
Google Images, keywords: swear words, hitting hand with hammer, and hand in ice water.
© Richard Timothy 2011
I read various takes on the same study and was quite amused by the results.
As a Scot, swearing is pretty much our first language. It’s nigh impossible to walk through Glasgow and not hear f’s and b’s and s-loads of c’s. It’s more or less every day speech to use the c-word to mean “person”. “See that c— over there? I love him!” etc.
By the way, I think this is the first time I’ve commented on one of your Smirks, so just thought I’d take this opportunity to say you keep writing and I’ll keep reading 🙂
Thanks James, I appreciate the comment, and it’s a deal.
You know ever since I saw the Chewin’ the Fat skit for Scottish Star Trek called ‘Taysiders in Space’, when people mention Scotland I can’t help but think “Set phasers tae malky!” and giggle to myself. Sadly all my Scottish knowledge comes from television and movies, so I’m sure its somewhat (of incredibly) inaccurate. Still, it does make me want to hang out with Scots. If I do ever make it to Scotland you can bet I’ll be dedicating a Smirk or two to the place. 🙂 Cheers!
Did he try the water thing with new people and first with swearing, then without? Everyone who ever had to take a bath in an icy lake will know, that it is less painful to go in the second time, swearing or not (and even if you reached your normal temperature in between)… so the study might not be as useful as it seems to be.
I am pro swearing. It helps dealing with anger, too. And I think the habit of calling normal swear words “f-word” und such are an overreaction mostly found in America and around little children… in Europe, no song or tv show would have a beeping noise in it just because the singer used an everyday swear.
but I like the article.
I know what you mean Judith, I have not read the actual study, but I would imagine that they would have done this over time so that phase two, the cursing phase, was done a few days later where body temperatures and all that had returned to normal in each volunteer.
I’m with you on America being a little oversensitive about swearing as a whole. I do think it is slowly getting better though. Usually its a group of very loud people that make a big stink about profanity in the states, which makes it look like we all are a bit uptight about swearing. I live in Utah and talk about a state that gets rather bent out of shape when it comes to profanity, of course I am stereotyping here (so sorry to you that are offended by stereotyping). My friends and I have a joke here that if we meet someone in Utah who swears and drinks, well they could very well be our next best friend.
As a Scott myself, I concur with my fellow Scot. Nothing brings me more joy than to say, “Listen here Cunt! ye bloody stupid fuck, how hard is it to hang a light fixture when you got the bitching instructions right in front of you!” I generally look at myself in the mirror and agree I am being foolish.
And thank you Scott for “keeping it real”… I think. I can honestly say though, I’m not surprised. Your comment was quite atypical and definitely 100% Scott.
Wow, this post really picked my ass 🙂 I’m a big potty mouth and, after trying for years to be nice, have decided that staying with the swearing program is better for my own mental health and the well-being of those around me. I do control myself in professional settings and around children, though.
I also have to give a big shout out to the Scots up there in the comments section: I lived in Edinburgh for a year, and, even though it’s downright genteel in comparison to Glasgow, it still warms my heart to hear some juicy swearing with a Scots accent.
Well Chris, I’m glad I could help… if I did, which I’m not so sure of now that I think about it… well bugger. Thanks for sharing just the same. 😀