Don’t say this in front of the kids, but recent studies show that cursing is not always bad. Researchers claim profanity can be useful in some business situations, can have health benefits and can even help lessen pain. It’s true. I swear.
Well, at least it is true-ish. Some of the research cited in the January/February 2016 issue of The Atlantic is preliminary, and some is still under peer review. It is clear further studies will need to be done to verify the findings. Still, the evidence is compelling and the scientists’ conclusions seem reasonable.
In one study, undergraduates were told to hold their hands under icy water for as long as they could bear it. When they repeated a strong curse word they were able to keep their hands in the water an average of 40 seconds longer than when they repeated a neutral word. They also reported the pain was less intense while cursing than when shouting the neutral word.
Several studies show that using “taboo words” allow people to vent anger without getting physical. This seems to me to be a healthier outlet than getting violent both because it helps takes your stress away and because the guy you would otherwise get physical with might break your nose.
In the business world, swearing can be good or not good depending on your position and job goals. A New Zealand study showed that using four-letter words “… allowed factory workers to build solidarity and to bond over shared frustrations.”
Other research found similar results with low-level office workers who had lower stress and higher morale when they engage in a “witty use of coarse, casual profanity.”
That said, if you are shooting for that corner office in the corporate world you should avoid using profanity, at least in business meetings. Studies have found co-workers consider peers who “… swear in formal meetings to be incompetent.”
Well, science may argue until the cows come home that swearing is a good thing, but that evidence wouldn’t have convinced my mom or my dad — and certainly not my grandparents — when I was a kid. Woe unto me if I uttered some witty, course or casual profanity within earshot of any of the adults in my extended family.
I would have felt the painful wrath of Mom or Dad’s persuasive powers and the irony is, I wouldn’t have been allowed to repeat a strong curse word to lessen the pain. I wouldn’t have dared to.
As someone with a lifelong interest in language, I understand that change is a constant of all languages including English. But as someone who remembers how our discourse was once carried out, well, I just wish it hadn’t changed in the way it did.
That’s one reason I enjoy the comics pages in newspapers. Most of the strips, at least those that I read, still maintain the use of symbols to stand for profanity.
Comic artist Mort Walker coined the word “grawlixes” to stand for symbols that represent curse words. He and other cartoonists let us use our imagination when, say, Sargent Snorkle goes off on Beetle Bailey. I consider it a bonus that each grawlix is hand-drawn, so you get skulls and exploding sticks of dynamite. I don’t feel it is as effective, or at least as artistically pleasing, to type grawlixes on the keyboard.
So as I say, don’t tell the kids that science now allows cursing. They’ll find out soon enough. Just let them read comics for as long as they can.