As a lifelong fan of bad words, I was delighted to stumble across some very important scientific research that has been going on regarding activities such as dropping the F-bomb. I never realized this before, but apparently there is some sort of perception out there that people who swear are low-class and unintelligent, at least according to researchers like Richard Stephens of Keele University in Staffordshire, England, who writes that swearing “is often seen as a sign that the speaker lacks vocabulary, cannot express themselves in a less offensive way, or even lacks intelligence.” (1) Fortunately, Stephens and others have dedicated substantial research dollars to scientifically putting this ridiculous notion to rest once and for all.
For instance, researchers from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, NY, showed that people who are more fluent in swearing are also more fluent in the entire English language. (2) How do they measure this? Fluency in English is traditionally measured by counting the number of words a person can think of that start with a particular letter in one minute. The ingenious researchers at Marist College devised a “swearing fluency task,” which measures how many curse words a person can think of in one minute. I am going to go ahead and let them take credit for this, even though I distinctly remember inventing this test as a drinking game in my dorm room in 1983. But whatever, the point is that people who scored high in the bad-word test also scored high in the general English test, proving that the more curse words you know, the smarter you are.
Stephens and his team also conducted research that showed that swearing is beneficial in certain situations, like holding your hand in ice-cold water. (3) Subjects who did this while repeating a swear word over and over could tolerate the ice water longer, rated it as less painful, and had a higher heart rate than those who performed the test while repeating a non-swear word, like “pineapple.” Not to be a dick, but I also came up with that drinking game in 1983. I’ll just let that go for now. The point is, cursing is a great way to improve the “fight or flight” response.
Stephens admitted that he was inspired to conduct this research during the birth of his daughter when, to his surprize, his wife “swore profusely during agonising contractions.” The midwives who delivered their daughter explained to him the astonishing fact that “swearing is a normal and common occurrence during childbirth,” leading him to sink even more research dollars into studying this fascinating phenomenon.
And spend more money he did. His next research study examined whether feelings of aggression caused people to improve their curse-word-fluency. (4) Subjects in group one played a shooter video game designed to increase emotional arousal. These subjects reported feeling more aggressive than subjects in group two, who played a golf video game. After the games, those in group one were indeed able to list more curse words in a minute than those in group two.
I have to admit that I wish I had thought of this back in 1983, because it, too, would have made an excellent drinking game. So I missed the boat on that one. But I do have to challenge the results of this study, because in my experience, nothing in the universe causes a person to unleash a $h!t-storm of curse words more than playing a round of golf. The only scientific explanation for this discrepancy that I can come up with is that something in the study’s design must be seriously f*ck#d up.