Monday, July 13, 2009

Swearing Is Healthy, Darn It

Years ago I shared a dorm room with a Seventh Day Adventist. Among the things we talked about were swearing. My roommate suggested that the ideal swear word was "Fie!" which would not be problematic. In response, I argued that a basic qualification for a swear word was that it had to end with a hard consonant.

(What can I say? We were bored)

Now comes research which offers the kind of scientific insights you can use:
That muttered curse word that reflexively comes out when you stub your toe could actually make it easier to bear the throbbing pain, a new study suggests.

Swearing is a common response to pain, but no previous research has connected the uttering of an expletive to the actual physical experience of pain.

"Swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon," said Richard Stephens of Keele University in England and one of the authors of the new study. "It taps into emotional brain centers and appears to arise in the right brain, whereas most language production occurs in the left cerebral hemisphere of the brain."
Read the whole thing.

Volunteers were asked to put their hand in a tub of ice water--first while repeating any swear word they wanted--then using a word they would use to describe a table. Apparently swearing sets off the 'fight or flight' response and increases aggression and accelerates the heart rate, "which downplays weakness to appear stronger or more macho."

First of all, the report seems to blur the line between saying that swearing is a conscious or an unconscious phenomenon--is it a conscious effort to appear macho and hide the fact that the pain really hurts, or does the swearing unconsciously allow the body to reduce the pain?

Secondly, this research doesn't do much for explaining the more common incidence of swearing in public during normal conversation.

The researchers claim:
"Our research shows one potential reason why swearing developed and why it persists," Stephens said.
But isn't it just as likely that we just lose control?
--like when we see the Mets lose?

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