Are There Any Benefits of Cursing?


You stubbed your toe, failed your exam, and got into fight; you probably cursed. For most, cursing is like second nature, we don't think twice about it we just do it. It is a habit that was so heavily frowned upon during our adolescence but is now a very commonly used element of our daily lifestyle. Indeed there are those who curse more frequently than others (me being one of them) but we mostly all victims of it. Whether it is muttered under our breath or at the top of our lungs, I've wondered if there are any actual benefits of doing it. I assume that there must be some kind of actual benefit considering how habitual it has become in our lives. Timothy Jay, an author of the Association of Psychological Science's Perspectives on Psychological Science, states that, "swearing is like using the horn on your car, which can be used to signify a number of emotions (e.g., anger, frustration, joy, surprise)" Which is agreeable because one of the reasons why we curse is to intensify our feelings through speech. But it doesn't make much sense how a word can produce any emotional benefits.



Studies claim that:

1. Swearing is cathartic

Cursing helps relieve stress and frustration through non-physical means. Ones initial reaction to pain and/or distress is cursing more often times then not. It is a way of releasing tension without any physical repercussions.

2. Swearing may relieve pain

A study in Keele University in Britain was done to prove this. 64 students volunteered to put their hands in a bucket of ice water and endure the pain for a few minutes. One group was asked to repeat a curse word over and over whereas the other group was asked to repeat a non-curse word. The group that was repeating the curse words was able to endure the pain longer and even had a reduced perception of pain. The conclusion of the study was that swearing helps you cope with pain. I found this to be very interesting 

But is it really logical that a word can actually alleviate pain and stress? This is the part that I was unsure of. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker stated that, "Swearing probably comes from a very primitive reflex that evolved in animals," to paraphrase his hypothesis, cursing is a way that humans react to unpleasant feelings as an animal would yelp or bark. A curse is a negative word so we utilize it to express a negative emotion. People not only have a physical but an emotional response to pain as well. That emotional response contributes to the reduction of pain. As a result you can see why cursing can (in theory) reduce pain. 

BUT, does that mean that those who curse more frequently do not receive the same benefits as those who do not curse? If cursing is used in ones daily speech, doesn't that make the curse words no different than a normal word in terms of emotional response? I am still very skeptical on the studies that claim that swearing actually relieves pain. Could it just be in our head like a placebo? Could a word, something that is produced in our vocal cords, really have any sort of emotional or physical impact?


I think the study doesnt really prove much. Our minds are trained to use these curse words in different situations. We could say a curse word in french or spanish over and over again and would that relieve pain? Most likely not. I can't say that I dont use these words in times of pain or frustration, but I am almost certain it doesnt physically relieve any pain or stress, but mentally it does.

My high school english teacher used to curse a lot, her word of choice was "crumpet". Her theory was that younger people like swearing because they feel grown up and rebellious, where as adults need it more for catharsis. Thus her point was that swearing relieves stress because of the way the word forms in your mouth, the way the hard "c" feels in some of the english language's "worst" swears. I tend to agree in that certain four letter words have hard sounds, and people take well to that sound in times of stress. What do you think? I would love to do a study where people yelled words like "crumpet" and other words with hard sounds to see how their stress levels dropped compared to actual swears.

Profanity is very significant in any language. Not only does it suggest social class but also it suggests creativity I believe. this is interesting because the phonetic tonalaties of these profane words offer a brief interjection that normally wouldn't sound correct if used with 'appropiate" language. Also, the psychology behind profanity is easily outlined in your post. awesome job

I really enjoyed reading this blog. Its interesting to think about swearing because it just comes so natural to me, unfortuneatly. To be honest, I think the study that Keele University did was pretty interesting. When I curse, LOUDLY, it really does take my mind off the pain for at least a milasecond. I think its more of a psychological thing. I know that when I curse, especially in public, its not something that people hear everyday so the way people react and, more importantly, the way you and your brain reacts to the actual curse word may be a distraction to the pain for some people. Thats my theory at least.

I definitely believe the information presented in this article. I find that when I'm in extreme bursts of pain cursing makes the pain almost disappear. If I'm around younger kids where I feel obligated to watch my mouth I feel like stubbing my toe leaves me in pain for an extended period of time. I don't typically curse though, which is good in my case. A study I found did the same ice bucket experiment but they used people who swear often versus people who rarely do. As it turns out, people who don't swear as much are relieved of more pain than those who overuse curse words. Here's the article about that research that was done...

In response to Michael Noonan's comment, I believe that cursing has less to do with the sound the word makes but more the meaning. Humans are creatures that seek to be heard or understood, and swearing is definitely a way to attract attention. Thus, yelling a Spanish curse words doesn't yield the satisfying result because the meaning of the word does not resonate with the emotion we're trying to portray. Because I don't curse often, when I do, it shows people the severity of what I'm saying. I might be displaying pain, shock, anger, or joy. I also think cursing might facilitate a means of laughter. I know when comedians decorate their sentences with a few choice curse words, it emphasizes the hilarity for me. I also would associate swearing with yelling. When people get mad in an argument, generally they get louder. You literally want your message to be heard by deafening any other noise. The same goes with swearing. You're demanding attention because swearing perks attention. Great blog post!

I like that you included different sources and sides to this blog. You provided information that sided with your opinion on the subject, but also presented facts from the other side. I think this is a very valid point in a sense of relieving stress, not one we commonly refer to, but still effective. It's a well known fact that not everyone deals with stress in the same way. Some familiar ways to deal with it are exercising, eating, talking to a friend, listening to music, etc. If all these things are suggested to relieve stress, why couldn't swearing do the same? I feel this would make sense especially for people who don't like to talk and share their feelings because they keep things bottled up inside. I'm merely making assumptions with no scientific theory behind my statements, but these are ideas which can and should be studied for this particular subject. If the other ways I mentioned can relieve stress, then why can't swearing?

I wouldn't say that cursing is a definite stress reliever and should be practiced when looking for anger management regimens, but I definitely do agree with it helping to manage frustration. When I'm angry, I am able to express my anger even more when I start cursing; that's how the person I'm mad at knows how truly mad I am. And once I have gotten all of my anger out, I am able to cope with (life) after that. The Keele University study was very interesting because it just proved my point of how swearing just gives you ease and helps you cope with a turbulent situation

This is so interesting. I am guilty of well pretty much cursing like a sailor. I feel like sometimes there just isn't a word strong enough to explain something except a "curse word". Like when you're trying to explain someone to someone else and you're like she's a real witch or a real brat it just doesn't have the same meaning as she's just a real bitch. Around my family I try to keep it clean and so do my parents. They never really cursed around us growing up. But if you really set me off or one of my parents, we explode and we'll curse...a lot. I think a study could never really prove this but I feel like curse words are the only way for us to express certain things or cope with pain. But then again why are they so bad? Ever since I was little and I was told not to say these words I wonder who decided these certain words are "bad words" and why are they so "bad"?

I think the ideas presented are really interesting. But would it be the same if a person had their own "curse" words? I know people who don't like to curse, so they come up with other things to say instead, like "fudge." Would using these words to express emotion have the same effect? I'd think so. It's not so much the word that relieves the emotion, but perhaps the context behind the word? I mean, who was to say that curse words were curse words to being with? I think what provides the relief is the act of forcefully expressing emotion, and it just so happens that we use these "curse" words to do so.

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