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.

Image Sources:
Google Images, keywords: swear words, hitting hand with hammer, and hand in ice water.

© Richard Timothy 2011