- Swearing gets a bad rap.
For a long time, it was associtated.
(BEEP) Let me try again.
Swearing gets a bad rap.
For a long time, it was associate.
(BEEP) Swearing gets a bad rap.
For a long time, it was associ.
(BEEP) Mind is a piece of (BEEP) today.
For a long time, it was associated only with poor or low-class people.
In fact, the word vulgar originally just meant common.
But if you've ever watched "Succession," you know that today the rich and powerful drop plenty of F-bombs.
- I'm not dignifying that (BEEP) question with an answer.
You can both (BEEP) off.
- Despite their popularity, the gatekeepers of language often like to pretend that bad words don't exist.
Dictionaries and etymologies ignored them for hundreds of years, which is why today it's so hard to tell how they originated.
Anything that even sounds like a swear word gets scrubbed from acceptable vocabulary, which is why donkey and rooster have replaced their forerunners.
Even Shakespeare had his cusses removed from some editions.
What a tragedy.
- But so-called bad words are a fundamental part of human vocabulary and there is some evidence that using them in moderation may actually be good for your psyche.
I'm Dr. Erica Brozovsky and this is Outerwords.
(BEEP) We'll do it live.
(upbeat music) - [Announcer] Otherwords.
- Even the cleanest mouths among us have stepped on a Lego or gotten some bad news and let an expletive slip.
Linguists call this non-propositional swearing, meaning unplanned, almost involuntary outbursts.
For a long time, psychologists discouraged this type of swearing because it thought it catastrophized negative emotions, meaning it made you feel even worse.
But then why would we all have this reflexive urge to do it?
Ow, son of a (BEEP).
This is what psychologist Dr. Richard Stephens wondered.
And he sought to test it with a very cool experiment.
Participants were asked to hold their hands in buckets of ice water for as long as they could, once while repeating a swear word and once with a neutral word.
No matter what order they went in, swearing increased the average amount of time they could withstand the pain by 50%.
The swearing was acting as some kind of pain management mechanism.
Subsequent studies bore these findings out.
And there was evidence that swearing was effective at lessening social and emotional pain as well.
In some experiments, it seemed that the naughtier the word was, the more effective it was.
So saying shoot or gosh darn was like taking children's Tylenol, better than nothing but not as good as the real deal.
Like medicinal painkillers, they can also be overused.
People who tended to swear a lot got less of a benefit from it.
To understand what the F is going on here, we'll have to take a look inside the human brain.
Most people know that the brain is divided into two hemispheres, the left side which specializes in higher order reasoning and the right side which is all about emotion and creativity.
In reality, it's quite a bit more complicated than that but you get the idea.
Most of our language functions reside in the left hemisphere, which makes sense because a language involves the arrangement of complex thoughts.
Swearing however seems to rely more on the right side of the brain.
This has been witnessed by neuroscientists in real life.
People who suffer massive damage to the left side of the brain often lose significant language ability, a condition known as aphasia.
However, many of them retain their ability to swear and tend to swear more often.
Conversely, many who have suffered damage to the right side of the brain can still speak clearly and coherently but seem to lose the ability or urge to swear.
Swearing, at least the non-propositional kind, is clearly more of an emotional reflex than a rational behavior.
That's why some linguists think it's more akin to a dog's bark or a lion's growl than human language.
It quickens the heartbeat, dulls pain, gets us ready for action.
And because it's so associated with emotion, swearing can actually help build trust.
Studies show that groups that swear conversationally tend to forge stronger bonds and perform better at shared tasks.
Displays of emotion like swearing are generally interpreted to be more genuine and harder to fake than ordinary speech.
And breaking taboos in front of other people implies a level of shared trust and understanding.
Swearing can even minimize the potential for violence by offering an outlet for aggression.
Instead of throwing punches or pulling hair, we can show how (BEEP) we are with words instead.
Such displays of aggression as a substitute for violence are pretty common throughout the animal world.
The words we consider bad give us power because they are taboo.
But if you go back 500 years, it was the other way around.
Bad words were considered taboo because people believed they had power.
Back then naughty language was focused on God and religion.
Invoking the deity's name, swearing by something sacred, or cursing someone were supposed to have real effects in the real world.
This is why we call them swears, oaths, and curses or cusses.
Some of Shakespeare's favorites, 'sblood, 'slid, zounds, were shortening of God's blood, God's eyelid, and God's wounds.
If you're swearing by God's body parts, the next thing you say better be true or your soul may pay for it.
And you didn't say damn you or go to hell unless you really wanted someone to go to hell, like literally.
As culture became more secular, taboos shifted from religion to things like sex, excrement, and body parts, though it's hardly universal.
In Germany, some of the worst swears involve animals, calling people dogs or pigs.
And in Japan, there's not such a stigma around feces.
In fact, they seem to find it kind of cute.
So having a (BEEP) might be a good thing.
Whatever the taboo is, the important thing is that it's shared.
We've all collectively agreed to put certain words behind glass, not so that they're never used but so that we can know when (BEEP) gets real.
It may not be the most sophisticated form of expression but there's a primal magic to swearing that's still with us after thousands of years.
And like any magic, if you use it too much, it can lose its powder.