Your penchant for four-letter words might reflect more favourably upon you than you think: the more expletives you use, the bigger your overall vocabulary - and potentially your intellect, a recent study in the journal Language Sciences suggests.
Researchers at Marist College and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts asked volunteers to quickly fire off as many words as they could in several categories, including animals, words that began with a certain letter, and obscenities.
Both in speaking and writing, people who rattled off more G-rated words were also able to name more curse words, too.
“The people who have a lot of words, have a lot of swear words,” says study author Dr Timothy Jay.
That puts one big myth - that people swear because they don’t have better alternatives - to pasture, he says.
In fact, holding a full arsenal of swear words might actually serve as a marker of intelligence, since knowing, and correctly using, a wide range of terms demonstrates your intellectual capabilities.
And your swearing might not just signal smarts. Read along to find out what other benefits your filthy mouth may give you.
The Benefits of Swearing
1. It can decrease pain.
From the moment your mom threatened to wash your mouth out with soap, you know certain “dirty” words pack greater power, says Dr Richard Stephens, author of Black Sheep: The Hidden Benefits of Being Bad.
As a scientist, Stephens was curious to see how that power translated physically. So in several experiments, he asked lucky volunteers to hold their hands in ice-cold buckets of water until they just couldn’t stand the pain.
When allowed to utter their favourite foul word, participants stayed submerged longer, had a steadier heart rate, and reported less agony than when they repeated a neutral word instead.
That’s because swearing seems to provoke an emotional response similar to fight-or-flight, releasing a surge of adrenaline that dampens pain signals to the brain, Stephens says.
Scientists call this type of cursing—designed to express emotions or let off steam—“annoyance swearing.” That’s in contrast to social swearing, or using foul language to fit boost group cohesion.
2. It can help you fit in.
For instance, in certain workplace cultures, obscenities can build bonds between employees, according to a report in the Leadership & Organization Development Journal.
After all, if you feel comfortable enough with your cube-mates to describe your day as “effing awful,” you’ve sent a signal that you’re all in this together. That can pay off when it’s time to work together as a team—not to mention boost morale by making the office seem a little less uptight.
If you’re new on the job, though, you may want to keep swears on mute until you’ve learned the corporate lingo.
Then model your mouth after what the higher-ups are doing. Or better yet, keep any profanity you do use among colleagues at the same level. And remember, swear about something - say, the crappy weather - not at someone.
3. It can win you an argument.
Peppering in profanity can also help you make a stronger, more effective point.
In a Northern Illinois University study, researchers had psychology students listen to three speeches advocating for lower tuition. Participants ranked the same arguments as more persuasive when they began or ended with an expletive than when they stayed G-rated.
However, using profanity works best among those predisposed to your point of view.
If you’re trying to convince those who strongly disagree with you, bad language only reinforces their negative views, Stephens says. And that can cut your credibility.
Just make sure every other word you use isn’t a four-letter one. The cleaner your typical speech, the more effective a well-placed piece of profanity.
“A person who swears only occasionally commands more seriousness and respect when a swear word is used, versus the person who constantly swears,” says L.A.-based modern etiquette expert Maggie Oldham.