I’m calling this my rant of the year because I figure that I can allow myself one online rant every 365 days. People who know me in person know that in reality every conversation I have is probably in some way a rant. I’m an opinionated person. But still, I’m allowing myself one rant per year that will go online to be forever immortalized in the secret way all things that go online are. There are only a few requirements to be the rant of the year: 1. It has be personal, hopefully making it less likely that it would prevent someone reading it to hire me (total conjecture), 2. It has to be thought provoking for the reader 3. It has to be written at the exact moment I think of it.
I really wish people would stop telling me not to swear.
People who’ve done it are probably turning red in the face right now, suddenly called out through the protection of their computer screen. But if it makes you feel better, I can promise you, there was a time I was a good little girl. I refused to be affiliated with swear words so vehemently that in fourth grade when my class played a racing game to see which team could come up with the most movie names, I (the self-appointed scribe), refused to write “Hellboy.” Some other kid in my group had to snatch the pen from me and write it himself so we didn’t lose.
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 2009, a study published in NeuroReport found that swearing can actually help increase the length of pain tolerance and decrease the amount of pain a person feels. Sixty-seven college students were asked to put their hands in a bucket of ice water and told that they could either repeat a swear word or neutral word of their choice. According to an article from the Scientific American, the researchers found that the students who were swearing reported less pain and they could keep their hand
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.