Why the !@#$ do we swear?

It’s all around us. Walking through the halls of UTM you’re sure to hear a few F-bombs getting dropped. “F this!” “F that!” “She’s such an F-in’ hoe!” But why? Why is swearing so constant in our daily lives? Is it impossible to get through a day without cursing? What causes some people to insert a cuss word in almost every sentence of every conversation?


Specific words that society deems vulgar have been around for hundreds of years, and their meanings have changed over time. “Four-letter words”, like the F-bomb, are powerful because they do a particularly good job of expressing strong feelings. Geoff Nunberg, a linguist from University of California, claims that “big F-ing deal” is quite reasonable to say when you’re talking to a friend about something that was a big effing deal. According to him, “It’s empathetic and has an intensity of emotion. To say ‘This was certainly a big deal’ doesn’t convey the same emotion.”


The reason behind the power of swearing, according to Discovery, is the taboo factor they carry. The more restrictions you put on something the more alluring it becomes; the “forbidden fruit is always sweeter” factor comes into play. In saying something that we aren’t really supposed to say, we’re pointing out that this topic is so important to us that we are willing to cross boundaries to make it clear.


Another reason for swearing might be psychological. Studies done by Timothy Jay of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts have found that swearing can provide both an emotional release and relief from physical pain. “People have a sense of catharsis; they feel better after using this kind of language,” he says.


One still wonders why swearing is particularly common on the public stage, such as in songs or acceptance speeches; it’s as if certain celebrities’ statements wouldn’t be complete without some sort of swearing. An example of this can be seen in Jay Z’s recent news-making. When his daughter, Blue Ivy, was born, it was rumoured that from then on Jay Z would refrain from using the word “bitch” in any of his songs out of respect for his newborn baby girl. The rumour flew around the Internet, magazines, and tabloid television networks for a week or so, but it wasn’t long before Jay Z’s representative said it was just a rumour and the rapper had said no such thing. Now that it’s been laid to rest and we can feel reassured that future HOVA songs probably will include the word, one has to wonder, why is it such a big deal to use the word in every song? Can’t he even try? Perhaps Nunberg’s theory that swearing conveys an intense emotion in a unique way is behind this one.


Even though we know swearing isn’t the politest habit, we continue to do it. Not only does it actually relieve the perceived pain from an injury, it also punctuates a point. And in songs from any genre, sometimes it’s necessary to demonstrate the artist’s  emotions—and sometimes it’s completely unnecessary, and then it feels as if the artist is using it as filler. No matter why we swear, the fact is, it’s not going away anytime soon.

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