Your eyes stretch wide, ears open and interest peaked.  You just learned a new word.  This new four letter word sits perched on the tip of your tongue, forbidden but all too tempting.  You don’t know what it means, but you still tremble in an antithetical mixture of excitement and anxiety at the thought of getting to use this word.  You just know all too well that it will make you look tough one day.  Whether it’s in ecstasy or in fear, with malice or with encouragement, you will astonish all your friends with such a naughty new word.

Maybe this was what it was like when you learned your first bad word.  Or maybe it was infinitely different.  It could’ve been at age five or double that.  No matter what it was like, it probably seemed to be a pivotal moment in your life right then, but it would prove trivial as time wore on and hardly counted as a milestone… Or did it?  In today’s modern world, it can be difficult to weigh the pros and cons of weaving such passionate language into regular speech.  Cursing seems to definitely get a point across, and it easily grabs everyone’s attention with a one or two syllable word.  But at the same time, emphasis eventually turns to overuse, and everything is watered down, completely losing the intended effect.  Should the locker room banter be regulated or does polite language take a toll on what’s really trying to be said?

Everyone seems to swear now and again, but studies show that now it’s starting earlier.  Timothy Jay, a psychology professor, has noted that most kids know at least one cuss word by age two, and a strong vocabulary by age four.  Then, all these taboo words sit and simmer and really take root.  They manifest themselves in the dreams and nightmares, the fantasies and fears of kids, just waiting to burst out into junior high.  Once there, the cursing and swearing run rampant.  To be cool, friends rattle off a few whenever possible.  But later the cuss words begin to lose their untouchable gleam and are used by the average teen eighty to ninety times a day.  And later still as an adult, every seven in a thousand words are taboo; this 0.7% rivals the number of pronouns the average adult uses in a day, so it’s not exactly a small number.  But one quick look at the facts clearly reveals why these words are in such high demand: they’re relaxing and they’re convincing.  In fact, swearing eases stressful situations and even physical pain.  Apparently yelling “sh-t” instead of “shoot” increases your pain threshold (with the added benefit of extra toughness).  Also, it’s persuasive.  According to Forbes, cursing increases the “persuasiveness of the speech and the perceived intensity of the speaker,” leading to more credibility and more influence.

So what does this mean?  Cuss words are not without their advantages and are certainly becoming more and more casual in society.  They don’t seem to be the blunt spear of the neanderthal or the stone of the ignorant slob as much as the careful chisel of the sculptor, slowly carving an intricate masterpiece with his words.  A flourish here and there in the stone is a beauty, but too many tend to be a bore.  Moderation is key.  And yes, perhaps it may be wise to shy from robust language with an employer or frail family member, but without a doubt, every great orator eventually needs to let loose.

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Dumb and Dodo


Word enthusiast, history nerd, and sound addict.

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