As a child I was told to never use curse words. Adults were clear that foul language was a big no-no. Of course, being a kid, that made me want to swear even more. The second I got the chance to swear, I did — and, I never looked back.
I confess that I tend to swear more often than I care to admit. I’m always mindful who’s around me and won’t swear in front of kids, the elderly…a Priest. But when alone, if I’m annoyed or stressed, I tend to let loose a torrent of curse words — a blue streak of foul language that would make a Longshoreman blush.
And you know what? Despite being raised with the notion that swearing is wrong and a sign of a weak mind, swearing tends to make me feel better — like a stress reliever.
As it turns out, recently released research shows that sprinkling some vulgarity into your vocabulary isn’t really a sign of a weak or deviant mind — it actually shows that people who swear may have stronger language skills in general.
The a report entitled: Taboo word fluency and knowledge of slurs and general pejoratives: deconstructing the poverty-of-vocabulary myth, in the journal Language Sciences, has concluded that:
A folk assumption about colloquial speech is that taboo words are used because speakers cannot find better words with which to express themselves: because speakers lack vocabulary. A competing possibility is that fluency is fluency regardless of subject matter—that there is no reason to propose a difference in lexicon size and ease of access for taboo as opposed to emotionally neutral words.
Translation: does use of swear words (“taboo words”) support the belief that people who lack a developed and extensive vocabulary use swear words because they don’t have the intelligence not to? Or, does it actually prove that those individuals actually have a more developed and refined vocabulary as a whole?
As part of their research, the authors asked study participants to say as many “taboo words” as they could think of within 60 seconds. This was followed by other free-style word associations in which they were asked to do the same with more benign subjects, such as animal names. After the series of tests, they compared the findings of each test in the series and concluded that participants who were able to say/use more curse words were also able to say/use more words in the other (non “taboo”) word associative trials— essentially, this showed a direct connection between participants who had a facility for swearing, as having an overall more expansive and extensive vocabulary.
The Independent summarizes is nicely like this:
Those who are liberal in their use of swear words are not the lazy and uneducated individuals they are often made out to be, a new study claims. In fact, a well-stocked vocabulary of swear words is actually a healthy indicator of other verbal abilities.
Writing in the Language Sciences journal, US-based psychologists Kristin Jay and Timothy Jay, dismiss the long-held belief that swearing is a sign of inarticulateness.
Working with the “poverty of vocabulary” concept (the assumption that people swear because they lack the intellectual capacity to find another way to express themselves) their experiment aimed to find out whether those more fluent in the art of swearing are less fluent in other forms of vocabulary.
Using students as research subjects the psychologists then asked their participants to say as many different swear words as they could think of in 60 seconds. Other non-swearing tasks such as saying as many animal names in the same space of time were also set to compare the findings.
The results found that volunteers who could produce the greatest quantity of swear words could also produce the most words in other categories. If the “poverty of vocabulary” explanation was true then the opposite should have been the case.
So as it turns out, swearing may very well be a sign of verbal intelligence, rather than a “lack of intellectual capacity.” Yes! I’ve been validated – my parents and Teachers were wrong! But all kidding aside, I don’t condone the use of vulgarity in public or in mixed company. Sure, for me it’s okay to let loose with some foul language to blow off steam, but only in private. In reality, a big part of positivity is having self-respect and in showing respect to other people.
So while swearing may actually mean you have a more developed language ability, there are better ways to show that than yelling “son of a b*tch!” whenever we’re angry. 😉