WARNING: This blog is a little controversial and not meant to be taken too seriously. It does contain an odd rude word or two. So if you are easily offended or lack a sense of humour DO NOT read on!
You may have noticed that I swear a bit. In fact, I swear a lot, a fucking lot. This is not to be vulgar or offensive, it’s just how I have communicated for as long as I can remember. Despite common belief, I grew up learning about manners, politeness, and right from wrong, but I also grew up with swearing as a way to express excitement, joy, anger, frustration, or just as a way of saying hello!
I use colourful language a lot in day to day conversation with many people including on social media, and I often get many complaints from others telling me that swearing is not big nor clever and that it shows a lack of intelligence and professionalism.
Well, I’m going to show you another side of swearing, how it can actually be rather clever and even professional. I am going to show you how swearing can be positive and how it has been part of our history and culture for a long time and is a fundamental part of being human.
When you look into the history of swearing it really is fascinating. For example, have you ever noticed that despite the English language being a bastardised mix of many other languages such as Latin, Greek, Dutch, Arabic, Norse, Spanish, Italian, and Hindi, most of our swear words originate from our Germanic cousins with the words arsch, scheissen and ficken not needing much translation.
Why most of our swear words are assumed to be crass dates back to William the Conqueror when he took control of England back in 1066 after the famous ‘Battle of Hastings’. During his reign, the country was divided by language, with the higher nobler classes speaking the French-Gallo dialect, and the conquered commoners speaking the Germanic-English dialect.
This split in language back then is still why swearing is often called ‘vulgar’ (a word derived from Latin meaning ‘of the common crowd’). It also explains why these words have acquired their power to offend due to the long-held prejudices that the vocabulary of the French conquerors was elevated and cultured, whilst the vocabulary of the commoners was distasteful and rude.
But swearing isn’t ‘bad’ language, it’s just a type of language and if we move through history we can see that some of history’s best ‘goodie two shoes’ used to swear a lot. In fact, modern-day Christianity was founded on swearing during the Christian crusades of the middle ages, with the knights, monks, and priests of the church often ‘swearing to God’ quite literally.
Effin’ and jeffin’ to God was thought to grab his (or her) attention to your oath, and so many noble knights and priests would be heard swearing at God in an effort to prevent them from breaking their vow or pledge. It was believed that if you literally swore on God’s blood, pronounced ‘sblood‘ you would physically spill it in heaven if the oath or vow was broken.
However, in today’s society many think swearing is a sign of low morality and intelligence, but that’s not actually true! In fact, some research here has shown that those who can name more swear words actually score higher on IQ tests, demonstrating that those who have greater knowledge of swearing actually demonstrate greater levels of intelligence, so refuting the common assumption that swearing is a sign of stupidity.
When done well swearing can be creative, imaginative, funny. It can capture attention, invigorate the sluggish into action, emphasise a point, and more importantly, it can make boring topics and discussions like physiotherapy more interesting and entertaining. Swearing also makes you appear to be more open, honest, and trustworthy to others as discussed here and is something I truly believe in. I never trust anyone who doesn’t let out an F-Bomb now and then.
Even more interesting is the effect of swearing on pain tolerance. Now I’m sure you can all remember a time when you have cracked your head on a low beam, stubbed your toe on a table, or trapped a finger in something, and I will bet my left testicle that you all jumped around shouting and cursing obscenities whilst furiously rubbing or squeezing the painful appendage.
This phenomenon led a researcher Dr Richard Stephens to conduct a study here into the effect of swearing on pain tolerance after he heard his usually mild-mannered, clean speaking wife using language that he thought only a drunken merchant sailor should know during the birth of their child.
In the study, he asked 64 subjects to immerse their hands into icy buckets of cold water whilst remaining quiet and timed how long they could tolerate the painful stimulus for. He then got the subjects to repeat this experiment a second time a day later but asked subjects to swear whilst their hands were in the cold water. He found that whilst swearing the subjects could keep their hand in the painful icy water for nearly twice as long.
Whilst it’s not exactly clear how or why this works, it’s believed that the pain-lessening effects of swearing occur because it triggers our natural ‘fight-or-flight’ response. It is believed that the accelerated heart rates of the volunteers when swearing may indicate an increase in aggression in the presence of a threat.
However, a word of warning if you do drop a few fucks and shits when in pain, a follow-up study here showed if you do it too much, too often the pain-relieving effects dimish.
So perhaps we should be harnessing this positive effect of swearing on pain? We often need to get people to do things when in pain, and many therapists tell me they look to create a so-called ‘window of opportunity‘ to help their patients do this, usually with some shitty manual therapy, or twatty tape, or crappy dry needles, or some other fucking pseudo scientific passive therapy.
So the next time you want to create this window of opportunity of pain reduction how about you simply ask your patients to shout out a few fucks, shits, wanks, or bastards? It is, after all, an evidence-based intervention, and actually probably more evidence-based than many of the other treatments done under the lame excuse of creating a window of opportunity.
Of course, I am being sarcastic and I am not suggesting or advocating the indiscriminate use of swearing and bad language. I do understand that there are some societal and social constraints and boundaries that we need to respect. For example swearing in front of children is an absolute no-no, and we need to be careful of swearing in front of new acquaintances we don’t know well, as well as offering warnings that swearing could occur in written or recorded publications, just as I did at the beginning of this blog.
So in summary, swearing has a rich and colourful history and despite some pompous pricks out there trying to claim otherwise, it is an important part of being human. Swearing is surrounded by many misconceptions such as being uncouth, uneducated, or a sign of low intelligence or morality, all of which is fucking bull shit. For me, it is impossible to imagine going throughout life without swearing, and I have absolutely no fucking intention of doing so.
As always, thanks for reading…
Now fuck off…