Why is swearing so goddam satisfying?

Potty mouths of the world unite! This week we explore the colorful world of colorful language, including breaking down the origins of Twitter's top 3 swears, unpacking the psychology of profanity and learning we aren't the only animals who like to cuss. All in the pursuit of uncovering why something so wrong, feels so damn right.

Naughty words both intrigue and offend from an early age. While these words might be a taboo, they are becoming more common. Studies have found use of each major swear words has increased over the past decades.

So this leads to my question this week: why is swearing so goddam satisying?

What is swearing?

What is a swear word? There are two kinds, a curse vs a swear. A curse involves punishing and a swear suggests, blasphemy. They can also be categorized as deistic (related to religion) and visceral (related to the human body) Either way they originate from a taboo. And what do we do with taboos around here, we look square in the face:

Where do swear words come from? To find out, we turned to the solution and creator of all our troubles… Twitter. According to the guardian, these are the top swear words used on Twitter and where they came from.

What do I and a bored 4th grader during indoor recess on a rainy day with the dictionary…. that's right, I'm looking up swear words.

  • Fuck: Merriam Webster defines it as: to copulate. But that only just begins to capture this small word’s range. It can be a verb, noun, adjective and adverb: “You fucking fucked my fucking girlfriend you fuck.”

Fuck is not an acronym, like folklore has it. But actually has Germanic origin and originally meant to hit, strike or move back and forth.

Considering the lingo we discussed in the virginity episode, it’s not hard to see how it became applied to sex. Look at today’s slang: banged, smashed, screwed… why so violent??

But either way, it’s essentially meant sex, since a monk used it to describe his abbot in 1500s.

Before that, it has even appeared in names, like John le Fucker and Roger Fuckebythenavele

So that’s Twitter, and my, favorite swear word.

  • Shit. There’s only one definition…. And you know what it is.

Shit has always meant about the same thing. To poo. It is seen in a few languages, which come from the proto-Indo-European root “skei” meaning "to cut, split," as in, split from the body.

It’s origin does not come from an acronym, Ship-High-In-Transit. The story goes methane from meneur caused boats to explode.

  • Ass. Defined as donkey, rude person… but we all know it’s about that bass. That wagon your draggin’. ASS, it's what's for dinner.

The word ass itself comes from latin, for a donkey. And it makes sense that a stubborn, mean animal might inspire you to compare a likewise person to the animal, but why the behinds?

According to the etymology sites I found, credited it our always intelligent sounding neighbors to the north easts. Those chowda heads who like to paak the caa in the yaad. They dropped the R and so went history.

But it might have been happening earlier, to help with rhyming. In fact, a character in Shakespeare’s Midsummer's Night Dream gets turned into a donkey, his name: Nick Bottom.

That seems to me too good to be ignored. (some iambic pentameter for ya)

Those were the top three, other contenders were bitch (which deserves it’s own show), hell, whore, dick, piss, pussy and damn.

How Does Swearing Work?

Swearing doesn’t come from the same

part of the brain as speech--which is the left hemisphere.

Swearing comes from the lower region, deep brain. What I like to call the lizard brain. So swearing is neighbors to emotion and instinct in the brain. Our brains don’t think of swears as words, but actually as whole

units, so we’re able to call on them when needed with out getting the left hemisphere involved… that guy is a fucking buzzkill anyway

Swearing is a combination of a motor activity and emotional release

Researchers theorize that cursing becomes our stand in for crying as we learn that crying is not socially acceptable.

And there’s power in tapping into that part of the brain.

A study from Keele University found that swearing can help increase our ability to withstand pain.Study participants who were able to swear were able to keep their hand submerged in ice water longer than those who couldn’t…. 50% longer actually!

The same psychologist did a similar study that also found that swearing makes us stronger as well. After a short intense stint on an exercise bike, participants who swore could produce more power on a isometric handgrip.

Swearing is Bigger than Us.

Project Washoe focused on teaching chimps sign language. One of things they also did with these chimps is potty train them. So they were indoctrinated with the taboo around poo. Poo is bad. They had a sign for it. Bringing their knuckles under their chin meant “dirty.” And without prompting the chimps began to sign dirty when angry or frustrated.

What Does Swearing Say About Us?

My mother always told me that swearing meant you weren’t smart enough to think of something better to say. Which is a real thing: “Poverty of Vocabulary”. Swearing equals laziness, impulsivity and more in line with those lower on socio-intellectual status. Research is starting to disprove this, but what do you think?

Is there such a thing as too much swearing? If we use the words too much, do we lose the connection to meaning that makes them so cathartic?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!