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Psychology, Uncategorized

Be more honest: swear

I’ve been in several meetings/discussions recently where individuals have unintentionally said swear words. It generally happens when they are getting excited or passionate. They then apologize for their language because it “isn’t professional”, but apparently, it is more honest.

Gilad Feldman, Huiwen Lian, Michal Kosinski, and David Stillwell (2017) examined the connection between swearing and honesty. They found that people who swear scored as more honest on an honesty scale and used more phrases that are linked with honesty in their Facebook posts (e.g., I and me).

I am not an excessive swearer but there are times when I definitely swear and they usually pop out when, like the people I’ve been talking with, I’m feeling particularly passionate (or hurting a lot). I personally don’t think that it is the actual act of swearing that I’m drawn to, it is wanting a special vocabulary to convey special emotions, feelings, or sensations. I want it to stand out because the feeling stands out.

When I was runnning a drop-in playground program I had some kids who were starting to experiment with swearing. They were doing it because it was new for them and they liked the shock and awe value. But they also wanted something to help them express stronger emotions. So, rather than give consequences for actually swearing we made up a fake swear word (pigeon). This gave them the sense of release and was kind of an inside joke among the group.

Later, I was teaching in post-secondary and I had a student who swore all the time, but she was also trying to get out of the habit in order to present a more professional self. She mispronounced the word epiglottis once in class as ee-pig-li-otis. We all had a good laugh and then made that the official swear word of the class. To the groups in the know these words served multiple functions: we could swear without being socially unacceptable, we could honestly express our emotions, and when we needed to swear due to frustration or anger, well let’s just say it is hard to stay angry when you say ee-pig-li-otis.

We need the language to convey our emotions and intense emotions deserve intense language. I presume, that just as language has changed in the past and the production of Gone with the Wind was fined $5 000 for the line “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”, it will continue to change and as swear words become more acceptable we will search out new words to convey our honesty.

Swearing has also been linked with higher pain tolerance, read more at How does swearing increase pain tolerance?

About Tai Munro

I am passionate about making science, sustainability, and sport accessible through engaging information and activities.


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