Are You Fluent in Swearing?

Do you think swearing isn’t big or clever?  Think again.

A study done by psychologists at Marist College has concluded that the use of swear words is a sign of a better vocabulary.  Being a person that was taught how to swear when I first went to clinical assignments, I am highly interested in this subject.  If someone has accused you of sounding less intelligent because you swear too much, don’t worry. This study proves them wrong (See Mom?).

The hypothesis of the psychologists was that people who are well-versed in swear words are more likely to have greater overall language fluency too. The experiments included asking the participants to write down as many animal names and as many curse words starting with the letter “a” as they could in one minute.  Then the participants were asked to do the same in a general way, also in one minute. The research did conclude that fluency in curse words is positively linked to verbal fluency. A rich curse word vocabulary may be a sign of healthy vocabulary and not a coverup for verbal deficiencies. (Thank you Marist College).

Clerical Cuss Words: A Limerick | The Quark In The Road

If you are curious, there were 3 curse words that appeared most frequently. (You can guess those, right?) There were more than 400 swear words generated in total many of which were very creative.  If verbal fluency and swearing fluency are correlated, then swearing isn’t a sign of language poverty. Instead swearing must be a feature of language that a person can use to communicate with maximum efficiency whether it is for linguistic effect, to convey emotion, for laughs or perhaps to relieve tensions.

Another recent college study by psychologists suggests that swearing goes beyond the realm of just communicating. These psychologists had volunteers hold their hand in ice water for as long as they could tolerate while repeating swear words.  Two separate tests were done, using swear words and non-swear words. The results were that those who used swear words could withstand the pain of the ice-cold water longer and rated it less painful.  Heart rates were monitored on both groups and the swear word group had a greater increase in heart rates. The conclusion of the scientists was that the swear words triggered the fight or flight response which releases adrenaline and increases heart rate. This is a natural defense mechanism and may precede a natural pain relief known as stress-induced analgesia. Those of us working emergency departments are familiar with this in our patients. It also occurs frequently on the obstetric floor in labor and delivery. (That pain definitely requires swear words!)

At the end of the day, it appears that fluency is fluency.  There are situations every day filled with drama where swear words seem most appropriate for a lot of patients and clinical staff.  I’m glad that science has my back on this issue. I am tempted to conduct my own experiments.

How many swear words can you think of in a minute?


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