“You shouldn’t curse. It doesn’t suit you.”
To all the boys and men who have said this to me over the past 20 years (and yes, there have been many) I salute you with my middle finger. What an unusual form of misogyny… but misogyny nonetheless. After another recent incident of getting called out for profanity, I decided to scour the internet for its history. Fascinating stuff!
As you may have guessed, profanity stems from the latin word “profane” which means “outside the template” or “descrecrating that which is holy.” 1 Most curse words fall into the categories of religious concepts, sexual activity, bodily functions, and slurs for other groups. 2
Likely due to its primal nature, men curse more than women, with the exception of sorority girls. 3 (Um, what?) And although swearing has been shown to successfully alleviate anger and pain, and is not directly correlated to aggression, 2 we still see legal consequences in the world.
After (vaguely) studying several different types of profanity that exist, I believe profanity is EITHER used to put someone down OR not used to put someone down. Regardless of its origin or literal meaning, those are the two high-level intentions I see. Really #$%^ing simple, right?
Ultimately I’m imploring a recalibration of our filters so we can react more appropriately to colorful language.
I’m sure part of the negative reflex to swearing is the shock factor, but it’s outdated conditioning, the same way we can judge a tattooed person. In my experience, calling someone a “bloody idiot” elicits a milder reaction than “#$%^ing genius.” I’m saying that the insult should have more consequences than the colorful adjective that isn’t directed at a person.
Or perhaps such extreme demonstration of emotion is intimidating. Studies show that swearers can appear more confident, powerful, well-adjusted, and funny. 2 Yet we as a society don’t want profanity appearing in our daycares, movies, classrooms, workplaces, politics, etc.
In my attempt to advocate for profanity, let’s consider less of the actual words used and more of the intention behind them. I mean, it’s basically just a cathartic release (and bad habit) like smoking or knuckle cracking. Are we going to tell smokers and knuckle crackers that those habits don’t suit them?
- 1 “Profanity,” Wikipedia [link]
- 2 What the F: What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves by Benjamin Bergen [link]
- 3 Cursing is a normal function of human language, experts say, by Natalie Angier [link]
- Where The F**k Did Cussing Come From? by Maddie Crum [link]
- Swearing: A Long And #%@&$ History, NPR [link]
P.S. I’m aware that my “Recommended Reading” section is not in MLA format and is not supposed to be a bibliography. Don’t @ me.