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Why Does Swearing Feel So Damn Good?

We love to pepper our language with an ‘eff this’ or a ‘no sh*t’, but there’s more to it than just throwing down a swear for sh*ts and giggles.

Let’s be honest, letting out a swear every now and then feels f*cking good, doesn’t it? Not only does a little colourful language show our passion and bring some spice to a sentence, it’s also been proven to be good for us on the inside. And we’re quite a sweary generation, with a recent study finding three-quarters of Gen Y are comfortable swearing in the office, compared to 58 percent of Gen X and Baby Boomers.

Prolific Profanity

There has been a real change in our view of swearing. It wasn’t too long ago ‘sh*t’ was beeped on TV. Now the F-bomb’s being dropped everywhere. Monika Bednarek, senior lecturer in linguistics at the University of Sydney, examined TV in the United States and found The Wire averaged more than 100 instances of profanity per episode. “And the more exposure we have to swearing, the more likely we are to integrate it into our own expressions,” says psychologist Dr Samantha Clarke. “It can change the way we express ourselves. Someone may have only sworn when they were upset or angry, yet the increase of media using swearing as a form of humour or endearment is likely to adapt the function of swearing for the individual watching.”

Now we’re dropping much more than an ‘oh, snap’ in front of our parents—and mum’s not clutching her pearls! Aside from family benefits, swearing is good for our health, too. A 2011 study led by Richard Stephens of Keele University found that people who swore were better able to tolerate pain. They had 67 participants place their hand in ice water and see how long they could hold it in there. When they swore, they could hold it twice as long, “Increased tolerance is linked to the activation of the limbic system, which releases adrenaline— linked to pain relief,” says Samantha. “This is called the hypealgenic effect.” The effects of pain relief were more evident in those who did not typically swear.

Social Swearing

Swearing downplays our feelings of weakness and provides us with a coping mechanism. It’s also said to improve circulation, elevate endorphines, generate a sense of calm, and help us in social situations too. According to Samantha, when someone is presented with a swear word, their amygdala, the central part of the limbic system, is activated, showing these types of words cause significant emotional reactions. “It can assist with bonding, creating cohesion between members of a group, particularly if there is a mutual view of swearing,” she adds.

Best Used Sparingly

Sure, swearing can bring us together, but when used incorrectly, much like love, it can tear us apart. “Swearing can inhibit a relationship from forming or even rupture established ones,” warns Samantha. When used in the right context, there’s nothing better than a peppering of ‘f*ck’...but let’s treat it as a privilege, not a right. Especially now we know the more we abuse the words, the less good it feels.