To Swear or Not to Swear?

Posted on: November 29th, 2018 by Pat Mesiti No Comments

I recently watched a very odd exchange between two office workers at a sandwich shop. Let’s call them Andrew and Chad. Andrew wanted to know what time a staff meeting was. ‘Don’t know,” was Chad’s first response. Andrew asked a second time. “Can’t help you, mate” was Chad’s second response. But this Andrew was tenacious, “It’s at 12, isn’t it?” he pestered Chad. “F****d if I know,” was Chad’s final response, and on that note he walked out of the sandwich shop.

Do you swear? Does swearing offend you? Do you think people should be allowed to swear in public? Would you like to give up swearing?

American psychologist Timothy Jay has spent years researching swearing. Jay notes that swear words include sexual references (such as the word Chad used), religious profanities (Dear God), toilet references (shit), animal names (pig), ethnic/racial/gender slurs (faggot), and ancestral allusions (bastard),

How do we choose what word to use?

We make choices based on who we are with and where. They also relate to our values. Swear words can be used for a variety of reasons. Mostly they are to let off steam, but sometimes we want to get a reaction from others.  Society is becoming less religious so fewer people say, “Oh Jesus” or even “Damn”. It is losing its shock value.

Normally we swear as a way of coping. We express frustration, anger or shock. Swearing can be beneficial. It is often cathartic – it often frees us of negative feelings. It can also be a useful alternative to violence. It is better to wear at someone rather than hit them.

Humour and swearing

Swear words can also be used in a more positive manner, in the form of jokes and humour, or social commentary or even to express joy. We may say, “This party is frigging awesome!”

According to Jay almost all people swear sometimes. Research shows people swear on average from 0.3% to 0.7% of the time. It is more common than you think. There are some tricks that will help you reduce your swearing.

How to stop swearing …

Calm Down

If you are swearing a lot then that means that you are pretty highly strung – after all we mostly use swear words to express heightened emotions. Being so tense for so long isn’t good for you. Why don’t you start looking at ways to relax? Try deep breathing, taking time out from work or walking.

Enlist support

Find a sweet natured friend who never swears and ask them to chastise you whenever you utter a swear word. Ask your family to do the same. Do you have any trusted work colleagues? Will they come on board with your anti-swearing project?

Find out what makes you swear

Can you identify when and where you swear and perhaps even at who? Avoid these settings or taking anti-swearing action. Plan on leaving the room before you get over-heated or clenching your fists or clicking your heals. Find an alternate behaviour.

Start a swear jar

Swear jars are an old-fashioned method but they work. Penalise yourself for bad behaviour, and make sure you give the money away to a worthy charity. What about a $5 fine for every swear word?

Ping your wrist with a rubber band

Yes, a little bit of pain can motivate you to change your behaviour. Make sure you give that rubber band a big nasty snap when you swear!

Pretend your mum is always listening

Unless your mother swears like a trooper, pretend she is eavesdropping on every word you say. How would she feel if she heard you use language like that!

If you can’t give up swearing …

Remember that swearing serves a purpose. Philosopher Rebecca Roache says that swear words are primarily used to vent emotion. “If you’re angry or particularly happy, swearing is a catharsis. Swearing also centres on taboos. Around the world swear words will tend to cluster around certain topics: toilet matters, sex, religion,” she said.

Studies have even found that swearing helps mitigate pain. It is easier to keep an arm in ice-cold-water for longer if you are simultaneously swearing. People who speak more than one language, say that swearing in their mother-tongue is more satisfying, as it has a bigger emotional punch. I like to swear in Italian!

Some believe that swearing is bonding: a few naughty words, said in a good-natured way, indicates mateship. One study found that people who swear are perceived as more trustworthy than those who rarely swear.

Dr Roache says swearing is a breach of etiquette or bad manners. If you know it would offend, and you do it anyway, you are showing a lack of respect.

“It doesn't matter that it’s a swear word. Imagine meeting someone who has a fear of rats, and who finds references to rats traumatic. If you carry on talking about rats in their presence, even after discovering about their phobia, you are sending a signal that you don't respect them, you don't have any concern for their feelings.”

Swearing may be good for your health

According to some studies, the health benefits of swearing include increased circulation, elevated endorphins, and an overall sense of calm, control, and well-being.

Use alternate words

Instead of swearing, could you come up with some alternate words? Some suggestions I’ve seen are: “Shirt!” “Fork!” “Zounds!” “Fahrvergnügen!” and Donald Trump’s favourite “Covfefe!” Did you know the Australian expression “crikey” is actually a substitute for “Christ”?

Personally I can live with a little bit of swearing. Maybe the key is to do it sparingly and not to get angry and emotional too often, which is not good for your health.


Pat Mesiti is a best-selling author, coach and educator in the area of personal development. Having built some of Australia’s largest people-driven organisations, Pat understands the power of harnessing human potential. He has shared the stage with some of the world’s great business minds and has sold over millions of copies of his books and materials.


Leave Your Message