P is for Profanity: Emotional Litmus?

Profanity. Ah, the blessed swear word. Why is it that we love to hate them and hate to love them? Their taboo role in our society has roots in the middle ages. Based on the word “profane,” which means “outside the temple,” profanity is offensive because it is secular and unholy. Saying they are “dirty” or “naughty” is a knee-jerk reaction, they are neither. They are offensive. They are also incredibly useful.

I recently read about a study that examined the effect of swearing on pain. It turns out that a well-placed swear word activates the part of the brain, possibly the amygdala, that makes pain easier to tolerate. I don’t know if it decreases the sensation of pain or stimulates endorphins but whatever, it seems to work. At least for tolerating icy cold water.

I think this is another instance of science studying an elephant by studying a toenail and not paying attention to the rest of the beast. I think this because I swear, and my swearing is directly proportional to my emotional state.  The worse I feel the more I cuss. Furthermore, I have a hard time squelching those dirty ditties when I’m hurting inside, or hurting physically.True story. So, it seems to me, that scientists are overlooking a lot of the human condition as they examine what swearing does in the brain.

Scientists caution against over using profanity, because that lessens the efficacy. So, I should swear less. I already know that!  Knowing swearing is a form of pain relief actually helps me catch those foul words before they cross my lips. It also helps me catch myself when I’m entering a dangerous frame of mind. If I’m swearing a lot, I ask myself, “why,” and I can usually pinpoint a cause and make some changes.

Swearing isn’t for everybody.  I’d like to say that swearing is the last refuge of an inarticulate mother fucker, but that is just crass.  Swearing is the last refuge, period.  It’s what you do when you can’t do anything else.  It doesn’t really matter what the word is.  It could be the ugliest of the ugly or a euphemism (which, for you die-hard non-potty mouths, still counts in my book),  if it activates that part of your brain that helps you deal with your pain it’s a swear word.

Maybe scientists need to look at why taboo words are used during that physiological reaction?  Why don’t we say pretty,  velvet, nakey baby feet, true love, or some other nice word.  Does shiitake mushroom, Hoover dam, or shut the front door pack the same punch?  I think not.  Although, “Aw, Data” and “Aw, pickles” will remain perennial favorites.  Maybe we do need to get more creative with our cussin’.

I think I’m going to work on mine.   Hmmmm.  Dog farts! Booger eater! High fructose corn syrup! GMO! Multinational corporation! Apathy! Non toilet paper changer! Empty box reshelver! Shoe dropper!  Toilet clogger! Dirty dishwater!

What do you think about profanity? Do you have creative cuss words?  Do you think euphemisms (dang, shoot, bologna) count?  Do you swear more when you are in emotional pain?



  1. Oh you are so right on with this one. I always heard clever people don’t need to cuss but I don’t believe that. There is nothing like a good fuck. What? Love this post!

  2. Ha! I read that article and I found it mildly interesting. 🙂

    I don’t tend to swear at home unless I’m alone. I will swear in different languages sometimes. And sometimes that effen f word just comes out because I’m so effen frustrated by having to hear short humans interrupting grown-ups talking just because the grown-ups are talking and aren’t paying 157% attention to the short humans who want to tell their parent “a secret” that isn’t really a secret but will somehow ensure that said parent doesn’t get to finish a grown-up conversation that has been started about 17 times already. Whew. I am breathing now. In through the nose. Out through the mouth.

    Much better. Thank you. More on this later. ♥

    • Ah, those little people and their effin inability to politely say, “excuse me” and wait. Mine do it, too. Ungrateful little attention sponges. 🙂 I used a different word in my head. It was inappropriate. 😉

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