What The *@&#?!
Some call it potty mouth, but scientists say swearing is good for you.
Feel like dropping an f-bomb when your spinning instructor insists that you: “DIAL UP THE ENERGY!” during class? Don’t sweat it. You may think swearing is just a bad habit, but it’s actually a universal way of expressing yourself — and one that’s been linked to a surprising amount of benefits.
“The words that are used vary widely, as each culture has its own taboos, but every culture on Earth reaches for something unsayable when all other words fail,” says Emma Byrne, a.k.a. “The Sweary Scientist,” and author of the new book Swearing is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language. In fact, she says, it may be one of the first languages we developed. “Even toddlers and sign language-trained chimpanzees spontaneously invent swearing just as soon as they have a taboo about all things toilet related!”
Is this all the proof you need to start fully expressing yourself in traffic? There’s more! Research has shown cursing helps in weird and wonderful ways:
It can relieve pain and increase your endurance at the gym. In an experiment, researchers at Keele University in England found that people who blurted out profanities while submerging their hands in ice water were able to tolerate the pain significantly longer than those who did not curse. And a second study by the same team found that swearing improved performance during intense exercise. The theory? Saying taboo words activates your body’s fight-or-flight response, spiking your adrenaline and increasing your heart rate.
It can make you seem more likable. Peppering your conversation with a curse word can improve the way people see you. One study of politicians found that when candidates used swear words, voters found them more persuasive and formed more favorable impressions of them. (No surprise, the effects were strongest for male politicians.) Meanwhile, swearing among friends and colleagues can be a signal of a trusted relationship—you probably wouldn’t let s**t fly if you didn’t feel comfortable around someone.
It’s a sign of honesty. Turns out that swearing can be a way of conveying your true feelings about a matter. Research published last year found a negative correlation between using curse words and lying—in other words, the profanity-happy folks were more likely to be honest and ethical.
It takes brainpower. The old adage that says people who swear are lazy or can’t find anything smarter to say? Science says it’s bunk. Researchers from Marist University in New York performed an experiment in which they asked participants to write down as many words as they could think of in one minute, and guess what—the people with the biggest vocabularies also came up with the most swear words.
Now, we’re not encouraging you to curse like a sailor. Neither is Byrne: “I’m not necessarily encouraging people to swear more. But I do hope they’ll give swearing the respect it f*#*& deserves."