Did you know that swearing can be good for you?

The Hoopla

Next time you drop the f-bomb, just explain afterwards that it’s therapeutic. Science says so.

Dr Richard Stephens, researcher and senior lecturer in psychology at the UK’s Keele University has been looking into the effects of swearing since 2009, when he found that it could actually reduce physical pain.

“Swearing is not necessarily a negative thing,” Dr Stephens says. “It can be a linguistic tool when dealing with frustrating events.”

That’s because swearing appears to trigger a fight or flight response, which releases pain-reducing endorphins. More recently, Stephens’ research discovered that people swear more when they are emotionally alert.

And now, research from Bloomberg has found that swearing in the workplace has increased, and was particularly bad at the height of the recession.

“A review of thousands of conference calls recorded in the past 10 years shows CEO cursing spiked after the recession in 2009 and waned as the recovery strengthened,” reports Bloomberg.

Using swear words at an opportune moment can help reinforce a point, and it can also make a boss seem more like an everyday person.

Perhaps that’s why Barack Obama jumped on the cursing bandwagon after the BP oil spill, when he said on the popular Today show that he was talking to experts “so I know whose ass to kick.” Obama was widely commended for using the “ass” word at the time, because people believed it showed he was passionate about seeking justice.

It’s not exactly the reaction we had in Australia when our own dear leader was caught in a sweary outburst. Lest you forget:

Perhaps Kevin07 had been taking lessons from Malcolm Tucker, the man who made political sweary outbursts ‘a thing’ in the satire The Thick Of It?

While we’re on swearing in political satire, it’s worth giving a nod to how convincingly Julia Louis Dreyfus plays the sweary Vice President Selina Meyer in Veep.


Did you find that scene empowering? Because it may interest you to know that swearing can help women to penetrate male-dominated networks. Harvard Business Review’s Anne Kreamer was once told by a female lawyer: “Swearing gives men and women reciprocal permission to feel comfortable sharing revelations.”

The NSW police, however, is not buying into this new trend. Earlier this year, fines for swearing increased to $500, from $150. Is this because of or despite the fact that Australians seem to have a particularly high tolerance for swearing?

Whatever the reactions to Kevin Rudd’s leaked f***-laden outburst, when he used the word “shitstorm” on national television, there wasn’t much fuss.

“Some people even thought the Prime Minister’s use of the S-word in the media made him sound more like an everyday person,” Roly Sussex, a professor of applied language studies at the University of Queensland told Fairfax at the time.

But… there is a big but.

(You knew there would be a but, didn’t you? That but’s a bastard.)

It’s true that swearing can be funny, and yes, swearing can make you feel better when you are completely and utterly frustrated. But it’s not right in all situations and it won’t work if you do it all time.

Dr Stephens’ research actually found that pain reduction didn’t work for people who swore regularly. In other words, Malcolm Tucker probably wouldn’t feel that much better after dropping the f-bomb. Ever.

So for everybody’s sake, please keep your swearing to a minimum (or else risk a $500 fine), and when you do it, do it well.

Here’s our own contribution to the debate.

Do you swear? Does it make you feel better? Or are you one of the Malcolm Tuckers/Selina Meyers/Kevin Rudds of this world?

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