About to snap? A well-placed cuss eases the strain
Alternatively, we could attempt to identify which fucker ate the last piece of cake (abusive) and say how fucked-up it is that he left the empty plate (idiomatic) in an attempt to relieve the resulting fucking anger (catharsis). We can all identify with these examples, but it is in the last instance that swearing’s real power lies: cursing can anaesthetise pain.
When you’re pushing for one last rep or holding on for that penultimate kilometre, a full-throated roar of your favourite expletive will ease you over the line. Try it and see. “Swearing triggers a well-known stress-induced analgesia,” says Professor Richard Stephens, senior lecturer in psychology at Keele University. “It’s part of the fight or flight response. Adrenaline is released, the heart pumps faster and we become more enabled to overcome an aggressor or make a swift getaway. Swearing helps many people better tolerate pain.” So you can either use profanity to sledgehammer through the wall during a marathon, or to just help you stay in the ice bath after it.
But please allow me one small plea for temperance (it’s the Catholic guilt, you see). Much as I love that my predilection for the language of the sewer now has a bona fide health benefit, I know it is nevertheless something to be cherished, not abused. Like other habits that tax reward centres, its use brings diminishing returns. “People who swear most in everyday life get less benefit,” says Stephens. “It seems that its emotional effect wears off through overuse.”
Now, rather than directing a rainbow of colourful language at kamikaze cabs each morning from my bike saddle, I keep my quota in reserve for when I really need it. When I ran the New York marathon last year, I kept my sacred mantra until the painful last 800m. Sure, I’m not particularly proud of my mid-“fuck” photo at the finish line, but I made it and got the medal. Swearing may not be big, but it really is quite clever.