|I’m worried about this one’s blood pressure.|
By Gayle Lynds
If someone whacked your toe with a hammer, would you yell, “Golly darn!,” or swear like the proverbial sailor? All my life I’ve heard that those who cuss have lower IQs, or at least lesser vocabularies. And anyone who uses profanity is obviously a BAD person!
As an author, these opinions struck me as important to investigate because of my own occasional behavior and because I write characters who populate not only back rooms, boardrooms, and living rooms, but also bars, alleys, and the occasional bordello.
Oh, and sometimes there’s a lot of danger. And maybe violence. Can all characters bellow “Gosh!” or “Heck, heck, heck!” when shot in the tush and still be credible?
Hmm. Let’s take a trip into science and see what the researchers say about swearing…
1. It’s a sign of intelligence and a large vocabulary What?! After researching a number of books and articles, I found plentiful science that “swearing is actually a sign of more intelligence, not less,” writes Dr. Richard Stephens, an expert in psychobiology. And a Marist College study reveals that intelligent people use more curse words than does the average person, and that swearing proficiency shows rhetorical strength.
My fave: Dr. Benjamin Bergen, professor of cognitive science at UC-San Diego, says, “It turns out that on average, the ones who swear the most also have the biggest vocabulary overall.”
2. It can be good for you
Yep, appropriate profanity can offer emotional catharsis. It helps us to cope, to vent, and to relieve stress. Professor Bergen confirms, “swearing can relieve anger and aggression.”
And frustration. Ask me.
3. It can increase your athletic ability in the moment
When I read this, I thought about star quarterback Peyton Manning of the Broncos bellowing “Omaha!” on the field in times of tension. I wonder now for what cuss word “Omaha” was substituting. Whatever, it sure helped win a lot of games.
“Pumping out profanities may help you pump some iron. Research conducted in 2017 suggests that swearing can affect the outcome of your workout. Study participants were examined during bicycle and hand-grip exercises and were told to either repeat neutral words or curse words. In both tests, swearing helped improve performance, the New York Times reported.” — Lindsay Holmes, Huffington Post
4. It helps you to tolerate pain
Shout those no-no words! Why? Your adrenaline increases, and your heart pumps faster. The result is stress-induced analgesia — increasing your ability to withstand pain.
Those who repeated the same profanity were able to keep a hand submerged in ice water for almost 50 percent longer than those who repeated a neutral word. Not only that, swearing also made them feel as if the pain wasn’t as intense.
This report comes from the New York Times, too.
5. It might mean you’re more honest
Some research also finds a link between swearing and honesty. For example, a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science concluded “profanity was associated with less lying and deception at the individual level. If you want people to think you’re telling the truth, then swearing might help with that.”
6. It may help calm you, too
“The health benefits of swearing include increased circulation, elevated endorphins, and an overall sense of calm, control, and well-being,” Dr. Neel Burton, a psychiatrist based in Oxford, England, wrote in Psychology Today.
I’m feeling more relaxed already.
As an author of many years, I’ve used all of the above in creating characters. Some would never swear not because they’re less intelligent or articulate, but because it’s not something they believe in for one reason or another, or perhaps have never experienced. On the other hand, I’ve enjoyed letting others of my characters use colorful language —
sometimes lots of it.
We humans are different, confounding, and deliciously complex. I strive to bring that sense of richness to my books, and I rest more easy knowing that cursing doesn’t necessarily equal idiocy. Damn right, Scarlett.