The embargo — undone by freewheeling cable TV — against profanity in TV, films and public speech seems, like the memory of a commerce-free Sunday, a quaint artifact of a bygone era. Never mind Breaking Bad; walk by any elementary school yard at recess and you’ll hear the kind of language that once wouldn’t have been out of place on the docks in a major port of call.
Still, for all its bad press, swearing or the use of forbidden words and expressions, is not without its guilty pleasures. Sometimes nothing will do except to launch a verbal missile destined to blow up a deserving target or at the very least make a big bang.
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A recent article in The American Scholar confirms what most of us intuitively know, men swear more than women and teenagers swear more than anyone.
Psychologists, according to the story, generally define our attraction to profanity in ways both practical and innately human. Swearing tends to be associated with moments of high emotion — anger, fear, excitement, even joy — people rarely utter expletives in service of the banal, which makes them ultimately more satisfying as a remembered form of expression.
Swearing may even be part of a “survival strategy” suggests the piece, which cites the efficacy of recruiting profanity as a way of sending a message to others that you mean business.
More interesting, a study conducted by Keele University in which participants plunged their hands into icy water, concluded that swearing acts as a release, which better allowed participants to tolerate discomfort over a longer time than when they were instructed to suffer the effects of the cold in silence.
For those of you who now feel empowered to indulge your potty mouth, take note, swearing as an analgesic only works for those who seldom swear.
Do you swear a lot?
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