Why the f*** do people swear?

WARNING: This post contains the words crap, hell, bloody, and the letters ‘F’ and ‘S’ which are followed closely by little stars like this *** Parental guidance is recommended for children who know how to de-code stars.  

My 2 year old has started to swear. Nothing serious or bad – all G-rated stuff. But it’s still a form of cursing and obviously she’s learnt it from her very highbrow mother. The scary thing is that she uses the words in context. In the tone and situation which they are supposed to be used in.

Example 1. The other week she was playing with the clothes airer. You know those white contraptions that you dry clothes on inside that are poor excuses for clothes lines but totally necessary if it’s raining, and your clothes drier happens to dry your clothes about as quickly as a tissue dries your entire body? Well she was playing in and around that and it collapsed to the floor. I heard it fall and turned around to see. She looked up at me and said “Oh crap!”

Example 2. She knocked her juice over on the coffee table. She knows the juice rules. Only in the kitchen. But she had snuck away, and I turned around when I heard her almost yelling, “Ohh nooo, oh gosh!”

Example 3. I’m driving and she’s in the back seat. Some idiot pulls out in front of me then slows right down to turn a corner. I subconsciously call out, “Mongrel!” She repeats it but I ignore her, hoping that by refusing to recognise it, she forgets the word. Later that day when she can’t get her xylophone out of the toy box because it’s stuck, I hear her say, “Oh stuck. Oh Mongrel!”

What am I turning her into? What kind of Territory Scrubber am I? And how is it that I have said the words, “I love you” to her at least 10 times a day since she was born, but those words have never even been attempted by the little pottie-mouthed princess?

And why is it that when she copies my less than desirable language, I have to turn away and stop myself from laughing? Do you know how hard that is? It’s harder than holding in a wee. Obviously I don’t want her to think its funny, or she’ll do it again and again. But why is it funny? And at what age do people stop finding it funny, and instead find it tacky, sad, wrong?

Beating myself up over it and calling myself a territory scrubber for using the occasional ‘curse’ word in front of others is probably a bit harsh. My definition of swearing is mild. ‘Crap’ is my swear word of choice. The well educated, well-to-do, well spoken, well read, well mannered and well hung (Eddie Murphy?) swear much worse than I do.

(Please note the word ‘occasional,’ because if you are one of those mothers that I hear at the shopping centre telling your 18 month old to “shut the f*** up or you will bloody well take them to the car where they can stay until they stop being such a little s***…” Um sorry, you are 100% fully authentic scrubber).

The other night I watched a music video on You Tube, by Eminem featuring Li’l Wayne called No Love. Won’t go into why I was watching this particular clip, given that I’m not a fan of Lil Wayne and his Pants on the Ground… but thank goodness the chorus was a rip off from Haddaway’s “What is Love? Baby don’t hurt me” (you know that head-bobbing song from 1993?), because otherwise I wouldn’t have understood a single word, except the word F***!

The song was infested with it. And it’s a shame because the message of the song is really powerful and clever, but will never be played on air without beeps every 2 seconds which is so distracting and hurts my ears more than the swear words themselves.

So why did Eminem have to do that? Why does anyone? Is it such a powerful word? Or just shocking? Does it invoke a different reaction in us? Could Lily Allen have sung “Stuff you, stuff you, stuff you very very muuuuuch.” And still had a hit?

 F*** NO!.

Because to answer my own question, I think that mere words sometimes aren’t enough to fully emphasise or represent the depth of emotion we are feeling. Yep, I think that’s it.

Far out, sometimes I am a mother f***ing genius!

I delved further into my own findings. Just to confirm that I am indeed, wearing my smarty pants today. And HOW ABOUT THIS?

Swearing has proven effects of Pain prevention. An investigation by Richard Stephens of Keele University in the UK found that people were able to tolerate placing their hand in ice water for longer when continually swearing than another group that did not cuss.

Stephens thinks swearing triggers an aggressiveness related to our fight-or-flight response, which lessens the feeling of pain. This is backed up by the increased heart rate observed in the swearing group. Previous research also suggests that swearing has a powerful effect on the brain’s emotional centre, the limbic system.

SO – this probably explains why people who speak more than one language usually or always curse in their native tongue; because they can say swear words in a second language but they don’t feel them — the gut link to emotions just isn’t there.

It also explains why I often make the FFFF sound when for example, I slam my fingers in those stupid rubbish bins at food halls and McDonalds, or when I accidentally knock over the mop bucket which is full of dirty water – all over the floor I have just cleaned, or when I get I get bad news. Like that I’m being sued for $50,000.

I’ve decided that by making the sound of the first syllable only, I’m not giving myself the full benefits of pain relief, and should perhaps therefore just drop that F bomb.

One example of a well educated man swearing is US Vice President Joseph Biden. He used an expletive back in March in a private moment to President Obama after the health care victory, remarking, “Mr. President, this is a big … deal.” His words were picked up by a microphone and it went viral. He was no doubt feeling the moment of victory and accomplishment so much, that the word seemed appropriate to express his excitement.

People’s attitudes have changed toward what’s considered socially acceptable language. The F word is not that big a deal anymore, and many shows on TV wouldn’t exist without it. Like Underbelly. Or Entourage.

The fact is though, social sanctions still exist. People who regularly insult others or use language considered to be inappropriate suffer serious damage to their reputation. They have fewer friends, contacts and business opportunities than they would otherwise. (I didn’t make this s*** up by the way…)

If they are public figures, they face severe criticism in the media and elsewhere. Just ask Mel Gibson, or Christian Bale, or Gordon Ramsay, or even little Justin Bieber who while in Australia told a staff member from Channel 7’s Sunrise program, “Don’t ever f***ing touch me again.”

And my good friend Richard Stephens over at Keele University also discovered that the more you swear, the less likely you’ll be to trigger an emotional response. So, you could end up feeling pain more acutely no matter how many four-letter words you say.

I simply know I never want to hear my child speak to me, or anyone else that way. So I am here-by introducing a self-imposed swear jar. If I don’t have coins on me I will write a little IOU note. It will be a gold coin donation and if I can earn as much as the Blind Foundation or Breast Cancer Foundation or any of those other coin collecting charities, then one day I should be able to buy myself a big f***-off diamond.

S*** yeah!



  1. Sian Bell · October 29, 2010

    I know, right. I concur with the difficulty of not laughing when the little darling mutter offensively in context. I remember having a coughing fit on hearing my precious little upstart breezed into the kitchen declaring “bloody Ikea piece of crap”. Charming isn’t she?

  2. cyclonecindy · October 29, 2010

    Oh Sian! That is hilarious.
    She was probably on to something though…

  3. Pingback: 10 Things I Hate About… « Cyclone Cindy

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