You don’t have to find yourself in a dive bar, a truck stop, a locker room, or a party to hear a lot of cursing these days. All you need, really, is a subscription to cable where language on CNN is as filthy as Comedy Central. But believe it or not, cussing is no longer thought to be an indicator of a society in decline; cussing now it’s considered down right beneficial. That’s right. Vulgar, unacceptable language can increase your ability to withstand pain, increase strength, decrease stress, and help you to better communicate. All this comes from a recent article in the New York Times, and you know it’s not bull…pardon me…manure…because the New York Times is the…pardon me again…f-ing paper of record.
Now I admit, I’ve been a potty mouth all my life, the kind of kid who searched the dictionary for forbidden words. I use profanity for emphasis, the way some people talk with their hands and others pound the table. I do it, not always consciously, when I want to make a point; when I want to accentuate the humor or the gravity of a situation. I do it so much that I often shock people, usually people who are put off by references to the human anatomy but also people who are repulsed by the excessive display of emotion. Fueled up with coffee on an early morning radio show, I’ve even dropped the F-bomb on the air.
Like many people I often use the F word in all its glorious variations but some years ago, to my great relief, the characters in a TV show called Battlestar Gallactica started substituting the word FRAK, which is socially acceptable, but says a lot about our society when you think about it. What in the entire world is more pleasurable than F-ing? And what is more destructive than FRAKing? Whatever.
It turns out that those naughty words we were told were so bad when we were children are in fact very good for us because speaking a forbidden word produces an emotional catharsis. Cursing triggers the fight or flight stress response, which prompts the release of adrenaline which in turn suppresses pain. A scientist proved all this by having his subjects thrust their hands into a vat of freezing water and … you guessed it … the ones who swore like sailors were able to keep their hands submerged fifty percent longer. He also tested the effects of cussing on physical strength and, once again, those who were asked to swear during the experiment turned out to be far stronger than those whose language was proper and restrained.
And here’s something particularly interesting about those holier than thou good two shoes who insist on saying ‘private parts’ instead of ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ and ‘darn’ instead of ‘damn.’ We actually trust them less than people who use profane language because, according to research, we sense that people who curse are more truthfully conveying their emotions than those who conspicuously avoid the occasional dirty word.
And by the way, contrary to popular opinion, people who swear are not deficient in language skills and certainly not less intelligent. That’s a fallacy known as the ‘poverty of vocabulary myth,’ according to Timothy Jay, a psycholinguist who’s written about taboo language from Roman times to the present day. His tests show that people who have a higher vocabulary, which generally correlates to higher overall intelligence, can actually generate a higher number of swear words…a standard which proves I am a genius.
Of course, words that are considered taboo change over time. The F-word, still considered to be in bad taste, is hardly as shocking as it used to be, largely because people are much more open to sexualized language and because religion is not as big a force in our lives. Even politicians are swearing in public. Democrats. Republicans. Senators. Congress people, not mention people in the White House, are routinely caught on camera using words that used to get my mouth washed out with soap.
But the good news is this: Language that’s considered to be vulgar nowadays is language that targets people as a group. You can rail all you want to about political correctness and free speech, but attacking people for their race, sexual choices, gender identity, age, ethnicity, social class, or physicality, is considered just plain mean.
And that, is actually FRAKing progess.
I’m Ira Wood…and that’s my opinion.
Copyright, 2017, Ira Wood