Call it catharsis, but it’s the reason I’m writing rather than studying for my media law exam tomorrow.
I really wish people would stop telling me not to swear.
I’m not that girl anymore except in that I am still stubborn when I take up a cause. I don’t exactly remember when or why I told goodie two shoes to “fuck off,” but at some point I must have. So now I’m 20, a junior in college, a year out from entering the real world and I still have people telling me I shouldn’t swear. It is because I’m little? Or I’m a woman and it’s not “lady-like?” Once someone told me it was just because “you’re Devi.” What does that even mean? Is it because those who are close to me consider me to be a nice person (that may or may not actually be true) and for some reason hearing me drop the f-bomb shatters that impression of me? I do not claim to know why, but for some reason countless people summon up their inner mother-spirit to give me a good dose of finger-waggin’ scolding.
It just makes me want to do it more. Now before I go too far, let me clarify: I don’t think people should be swearing all day, everyday (even though, admittedly, I do sometimes). I think that there is a time and place for everything. You just have to judge your audience. You probably shouldn’t be cussing up a storm in a job interview or while you are around young children. That’s just silly. But if you’re sitting there watching the game (or in my case the presidential debate), and you’re with people your age or with whom you are close, I say let it rip.
You may find yourself asking, “Why, Devi, are you trying to start a potty-mouth uprising?”
Well, I’m a an aspiring science writer, so let’s talk science for a second.
in the water for an average of 40 seconds longer than those who didn’t swear. The researchers think that the reason for this is that swearing is something that impacts us on a deep level of our brain, in a structure called the amygdala. The amygdala plays a role in emotional processing and, as a part of what is called the limbic system, it receives inputs from a lot of different brain areas. We know that it’s old (evolutionarily speaking) because it is deep in the brain, and as humans evolved to be smarter and more complex, our brains grew outward.
Researchers also believe that the amygdala plays a role in the primitive “fight or flight response.” That’s the thing that kept your ancestors from getting eaten by a predator even when they had gotten hurt and what keeps you from feeling the pain from running into something when you’re trying to catch a bus. Well, at least not too much pain. That’s because you’ve got that adrenaline pumping and your brain’s priority is to catch that bus (or not get eaten). The researchers in this study think that swearing might be activating that fight or flight response.
Even the Mythbusters heard about this one and they confirmed it. So it must be true. I’m kidding - it is important to be a skeptical reader of research. But regardless of whether or not these researchers have the right idea of the mechanism behind swearing alleviating pain, there must be something there. It’s when people get that paper cut or walk into that table that they find themselves instinctively dropping those expletives.
“Okay,” you say. “Blah blah science. But you shouldn’t be swearing consciously. That’s just plain rude.”
Sure. Maybe it is rude. But maybe I’m aiming to be rude. Maybe it makes you uncomfortable or gets your attention. Perhaps that’s what I was going for. As a communicator and as a writer, that’s the thing that I find so important. At some point, someone somewhere decided that there was not a good enough word to convey what they were thinking, so they said something bad. The versatility of swear words is amazing: some of them can function as any part of speech. You can put two together and make an entirely new word that says exactly what you want. You can even say the same word with a different tone and convey a world of emotions: happy, excited, amazed, angry, ashamed, disgusted – the list goes on and on.
I’m a resident assistant in a sophomore college dorm. Once when our building was flooding, I cussed while telling a group of students to evacuate. I was scared shitless. I didn’t know what was going on and I wanted them to leave, but they were trying to make a Snapchat video. So if my yelling “get out right fucking now” got those kids out of what I thought was a really dangerous situation – who cares that I said it? Maybe it was some version of fight or flight, but in that moment my word choice told them that I was not messing around. This was not a joke – they needed to leave.
I’m not saying that people who don’t want to swear should take it up. Or that if it makes you feel uncomfortable you should not say something. That is how people learn their limits. I just want people to stop telling me not to swear because they think it’s weird coming out of my mouth or because I need to be taught manners. There’s something bigger than manners at play here, and it’s this:
As a writer, I have an extreme respect for the power of words. I want to make a career out of crafting them, giving each one its weight and not giving up until every word in this chain says exactly what I want it to say to my reader. If the best word for me to describe my emotion or my world is an expletive, I’m going to use it because I’ve carefully chosen it and determined that it would get my point across best. There’s beauty in that moment when a word makes someone else stop. When I can exactly express my frustration or dismay or euphoria by saying a word. That’s the moment when the other person will hopefully think: “I can’t believe she said that," and then, "Why did she say that?”
That’s when I know you heard me. That moment is fucking amazing.
This site is my way of connecting you to the happenings of my journalistic adventures and the rest of my digital portfolio.