A Defense of Swearing? Hells ya!
I can remember the first time I heard my very devout Mormon mother swear. I was 7 years old and we had just moved to a new house and were transporting our cat. The second we opened the car door, the cat bolted, never to be heard from again. “Dammit!” my mother shouted, and I was more stunned by her words than I was by the MIA kitty. The expletive communicated so much: her weariness from the move, her desire for a smooth transition, the sadness of losing a dear pet. It signaled a loss of control. Yet at the same time there was such power in her swearing. I tucked that word away and waited six months for the appropriate time to use it myself. At the beach my brother’s friend destroyed my sandcastle and BOOM I let him have it. The word tasted sweet and bitter all at once.
Over the years I’ve sampled my fair share of salty language. I’m not a sailor or a nurse, but I am a believer that there is a time and a place for cursing. Even for Mormons. Maybe especially. Here are 5 instances where I believe cursing can be a productive choice.
- Pain relief—A few years ago I read a study that showed that swearing while experiencing pain reduces the discomfort. Swearing activates our brain’s “fight or flight” response, resulting in a surge of adrenaline, which causes an analgesic effect. In short, dropping an F bomb when you drop a hammer on your toe really does make you feel better. But this is not the case for chronic Potty Mouths. If you swear all the time, your brain no longer sees these words as crisis worthy. Maybe this mean that swearing is uber pain relieving for Mormons!
- Substitute for physical violence—As a daughter, a sister, and a mom, there have been times where a four-letter word has come to my rescue when I’ve wanted some five-fingered retribution. We all have impulses to thrash and kick and hurt those who make us nuts. Not that words can’t wound, but hurling words instead of punches seems preferable. Letting out a powerful word can relieve the pressure and be suitable non-violent retaliation. If you’ve never faced this choice, good for you. Go be smug somewhere else.
- Swearing is Caring—About a month ago a good friend let her kids have it. They were screaming and fighting and she reached her limit and told them they were acting like “little sh*ts.” They all froze in place. The youngest got teary and said, “Mom, you said a BAD word!” and she replied, “Sweetheart, I swear because I care.” They needed to know they had crossed a line. Again, if you use profanity sparingly, then it makes a statement. It stings the virgin ears and can communicate that one demands better behavior. Sometimes swearing is caring.
- Control—If you pay attention to when people swear, it’s often in situations where they feel they have lost control. The example of my mother for instance. For me it is often in the car, when a near miss happens. Letting out an expletive seems to help me focus when I panic. There is relief and power in saying certain words. Some research suggests that swearing increases circulation and endorphins which promotes a sense of calm and wellbeing, making us feel less vulnerable.
- Humor – Sometimes swearing is just funny. Especially when you don’t expect it. Here’s an example. My friend was watching another friend’s 4 year old. The kid went potty and got poop on his fingers and proceeded to clean them off by scraping them back and forth back and forth across her living room rug. She did her best to clean it but when her rather proper husband got home, the first words out of his mouth were: “Why does this room smell like ass?” Substitute butt or poop and it just doesn’t work. Maybe anus does, but then you’ve traded the power of a swear word with the power of a clinical term. I stick with “ass” for the win.
Am I suggesting that we Mormons go around cursing a blue streak and sound like a character in a Melissa McCarthy movie? Not at all. In general I agree that there is much too much profanity and it ceases to mean anything when used for everything. But for the occasional swearer, are there times and places when the right word can make all the difference? Damn straight.
When do you swear? Do you regret it as a verbal slip up, or embrace it as the spice in your vocabulary soup?