Deciding to swear was a crucial coming of age moment for me — right up there with losing my last baby tooth, shaving my legs for the first time and trying my first sip of alcohol.
We’re taught from an early age that certain words were off limits, forbidden. That people would be shocked if we used them. That we might even be punished. (I’m sure I’m not the only one who ever had to eat soap as a kid.)
But prohibiting these words imbues them with, well, a shit-ton of power — and using them becomes a powerful proposition.
I still remember the day in fifth grade when I started swearing. Before then, I had always censored myself (and others — in earlier years, in a misguided attempt at flirtation, my friends and I would hit boys with rulers when they swore). My friend Sarah W., who was much cooler than I was and a swearer herself, asked what was up with me that day, noting I seemed to be on a swearing rampage. But now that I had become a user of profanity, I couldn’t stop. I had tasted its power, and I was never turning back.
Science says swearing is good for me
I love swearing to this day. And it’s not just me — according to science, swearing makes us feel good.
Researchers have shown it helps us better tolerate pain and improve our stamina and strength. I couldn’t have birthed either one of my children without screaming things that would make most people blush.
Swearing can also help to forge stronger connections in relationships — it allows us to illustrate our trust for one another, and can even promote bonding and teamwork in the office. Confessing to a coworker that you think a new office policy of having to submit a full-page report every time you want to take a day off is “cumbersome” is not the same as saying it’s “annoying as shit.” In a sense, you show allyship with another person by speaking to them in language you aren’t “supposed” to use — it’s like you’re letting them in on a secret.
The case for profanity at work
Though some might be shocked to imagine curse words flying at work, it’s pretty much all I’ve ever known. From my early days working in restaurants to my decade-plus career in public relations and marketing, four-letter words have always abounded. I guess it’s because I’ve spent most of my working life in high-pressure environments where team-building and a high pain/stress tolerance were critical to survival.
My husband recently heard it firsthand when my former teammates and I exercised the power of swearing liberally on a conference call I took from home.
“My team would never talk like that,” he said. Apparently, we had used a lot of colorful language. I hadn’t noticed. We’d been talking on the call about a high-stakes campaign we were working on. If we couldn’t pull off the results we’d promised our client within the next week, well, to put it simply — we were fucked.
I swatted away my husband’s shock. “Sucks to be you,” I said. “I like swearing.” And I do. I’m enchanted by the power of language — all language. The meaning of a word, its emotional charge and its connotations — and how those things can change in different contexts and combinations.
The brilliance of swearing
Some people believe swearing is lazy, that you should put in the work to find a “better” word. But researchers have disproven that narrative, finding a strong relationship between swearing and intelligence — that a rich profane vocabulary is highly correlated to a rich “standard” vocabulary, and that mastery of the nuances of profanity can indicate a deeper and more nuanced mastery of language overall.
My parents used to say swearing was unladylike (What does that even mean and why would it make me want to stop?) or low class. (I know, my parents are embarrassing. Ahem, just kidding, Mom and Dad! Love you.) I call bullshit on these arguments. First, the unladylike thing is obviously sexist. And plenty of rich people swear: The finance industry is known for using some of the worst language. Besides, it certainly hasn’t limited my career.
When we started The Juggle, we debated whether to allow profanity in our content. As you may have guessed, I was vehement that we should. I found countless articles in respectable publications and blogs to support my case. Something we’re really passionate about at The Juggle is to be authentic in our writing, always. What’s more authentic than using real language?
While no one felt as strongly about it then as I did, we (along with many of our guest contributors) have all taken advantage of the policy. And I know some readers might disagree, but I, at least, think our content is better for it.
Sometimes profanity is legitimately the best solution — the best way to express a feeling or argument.
So, here’s to always using the best fucking word for the job. Cheers, my sailor-mouthed friends.
5 thoughts on “Swearing: a love story”
Fuck yeh! Loving swearing (guilty) and agree with all of this. Swearing at work and know when you shouldn’t swear at work – like on a call with a client – are two different things. It can really cut to the heart of the matter…
Thanks Steph! Couldn’t agree more.
Sharing my mom’s feedback for a little added perspective:
“I think you just always wanted to do the opposite of what we said. But what are you supposed to tell kids when they swear? Let me know in 7 or 8 years.”
She’s right. I did. Also I have no idea what I’ll tell my kids. At this stage (they’re six and three), they still think “stupid” is a bad word. Luckily, this is Future Jen’s problem and not mine.
My friend has a 7-year-old and she tells her she doesn’t care is she swears. It matters more to her how she speaks TO other people. I like this and hope to adopt something similar with my daughter, though I anticipate issues may arise if she decides to swear and does so around friends whose parents feel differently…
I like this philosophy. It’s one thing to swear for effect, quite another to speak shittily in a way that’s directed AT someone.
I reread To Kill a Mockingbird recently and this makes me think about Atticus Finch (something I almost put in this blog post actually) — regarding Scout’s language, he says, “Bad language is a stage all children go through, and it dies in time when they learn they’re not attracting attention with it.”
You make it more powerful by forbidding it. If kids experiment and don’t get as much of a reaction, maybe it loses some of its power. Or maybe like your friend points out, it doesn’t matter either way as long as they’re respectful of others and, frankly, not little assholes.