Potty Talk News Article

VANCOUVER - New psychological studies may throw light on why Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson was caught on a live microphone wondering whether hostile speakers at a recent council meeting were “f---in’ … hacks.”
Why do people swear? It’s mainly to relieve pain, reports Psychology Today, which explores the intricacies of cursing in a feature in this month’s edition, titled The Profane Brain: The World of Taboo Words.
A recent study revealed that swearing increases people’s tolerance for different kinds of pain and anxiety, which could well have been what Robertson was subconsciously trying to accomplish by releasing an expletive in what he thought was a private conversation with fellow council members.
What kind of experiment is this theory based on? “Subjects were asked [in a 2009 study] to submerge their hands in a bath of ice water and keep them there as long as they could,” reports Psychology Today.
“When subjects were allowed to curse, they were able to keep their hands in the icy waters longer.”
In an interview with Scientific American magazine, one of the authors of the study, psychologist Richard Stephens of Keele University in England, said: “Swearing is such a common response to pain that there has to be an underlying reason why we do it.”
Although Scientific American says cursing is notoriously decried in public debate, researchers such as Stephens are now suggesting it’s not all bad. Findings point to one possible benefit: “I would advise people, if they hurt themselves, to swear,” Stephens said.
Swearing is what the human animal does when it is injured, physically and emotionally, adds psychologist Steven Pinker of Harvard University, whose book The Stuff of Thought includes a detailed analysis of swearing.
Should we compare Robertson’s curse at the contentious council meeting to the cry of a wounded cat? Pinker might well do so. He says humans swear in the same way a cat’s brain responds when it is accidentally sat upon.
“I suspect that swearing taps into a defensive reflex in which an animal that is suddenly injured or confined erupts in a furious struggle, accompanied by an angry vocalization, to startle and intimidate an attacker,” Pinker writes.
Even though Robertson’s moment of backstage swearing is causing a buzz, it turns out he’s not alone in using what some euphemistically call “potty language.”
Psychology Today reports the average English-speaker utters 85 taboo or swear words a day.
And when it comes to the popular forms of swearing, Robertson was using the most common epithet in North America.
“F--k” and “s--t” account for half of all profanity uttered by Americans, says Psychology Today. Rounding out the top 10 in the U.S. Are “hell,” “damn,” “Goddamn,” “Jesus Christ,” “ass,” “Oh my God,” “b-tch” and “sucks.”
The swear words of a culture reflect its preoccupations, according to Psychology Today. Based on this theory, it says, North Americans appear fixated on the sex act.
Other cultures have somewhat different concerns. In Spain, the most common swear word is “puta,” or *****. In Brazil, it is “posta,” or s--t. In Denmark, the most routine epithet is “pik,” or c-ck.
No gender appears to have an exclusive corner on swearing any more, either.
Back in 1996, only 33 per cent of North American women admitted swearing, compared to 67 per cent of men. By 2006, the female swearing ratio had risen to 45 per cent, while the percentage of men swearing dropped to 55 per cent. ---- One prominent figure is trying to redeem cursing, at least in part. Bob Sanford, a well-known organizational psychologist at Stanford University and author of The No ******* Rule, says there can be a time for a leader to swear.
“This phenomenon helped get me interested in The No ******* Rule,” writes Sanford.
“Years ago, at my department at Stanford, one of my colleagues — who rarely if ever swears at meetings — had a big impact on our group by arguing that we should not hire a renowned but difficult researcher because we did not want to ruin our group by bringing in ‘*******s.’ From then on, the no ******* rule was discussed as a hiring criteria. I believe that if he was the kind of guy who swore constantly, we never would have heard it.”
Unfortunately for Vancouver’s mayor, Sanford says it’s never helpful to a leader to get caught out uttering backroom epithets. That’s what happened to George W. Bush when he was heard referring to a New York Times reporter as a “major league *******.”
When in doubt, advises Sanford, don’t swear. Nevertheless, strategic swearing can be effective — when it comes from leaders who don’t often do it.

Do you think you swear to relieve pain? I don't recall a single incident where I felt relief after hurting myself and swearing about it. Sounds like balogna to me.
Then why does everyone swear when they get hurt? Even the Pope says 4 letter words when he misses the nail and slams his finger.
"Sucks" can hardly be described as a swear word and "bitch" definitely isn't or if it is then "sire" must be too along with cow and bull and buck and ewe and ram.
lone wolf
'cuz it sounds lots more coloured than the balloonful of saturns, stars and squiggly things the comic would otherwise be.

Swearing is just something we do when there are no better polite words to describe it fast....
Quote: Originally Posted by JLMView Post

"Sucks" can hardly be described as a swear word and "bitch" definitely isn't or if it is then "sire" must be too along with cow and bull and buck and ewe and ram.

I wondered how "sucks" made the list. We use bitch as a swear word but saying something like "it sucks to be you" is hardly swearing. Good cover for the Vanc. mayor I suppose but hey - who said he can't swear now and then?
The primary problem with psychological studies (as I view them), is the overabundence of them - often done by inexperienced graduates going for their Ph.D. and having no "in the trench" experience.

Curse words also convey a grandiose use of words - which supplies the speaker with attention from others and attempts to designate the speaker as a fearless aggressive opinion maker.

Future studies after these newly minted "doctorates" have had some real life input may actually enhance our knowledge but often once the degree is obtained, there is very little necessity to update some neophyte ideas with real life experience.

Crrossing the line of societal "behavior codes" gives relief to tension and expands the world for some people who rarely use cursing as an outlet -

My only advice is "pick your audience well". In debate I have read/heard some eloquent people destroy an opponent with fantastic linguistic skill without the use of any necessary curse epithets. It's refreshing and sooooo
righteous..... (fist pump here hehe).
Last edited by Curiosity; Jul 15th, 2010 at 06:06 AM..

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