Pardon Me But What Did You Just Say?
No matter what country you’re from or what language you speak, there are some words that are thought to be inappropriate. In every culture, certain gestures and words are just “taboo.” No doubt, as you are reading this, you have already thought about a few of them. But should it really matter what a person says? After all, they are just words, right? Isn’t a swear word just a collection of letters whose meaning is only what people make of it? What is behind swearing, and why is it so satisfying for some people?
Is Swearing Colorful Language or Garbage?
To begin to understand why taboo words are so offensive, think about the different levels of potency attached to the various taboo words. Some, especially in recent times, have lost almost all of their effectiveness. These include words like “shoot” and “darn.” Even good and religious people use those.
But what is the purpose of these verbal enhancements? The punch that a taboo word packs depends on the amount of surprise or shock that it is capable of generating in the listener. Many people think that using swear words is just a way of emphasizing things.
But when a word is connected to certain mental imagery, inappropriateness or something unthinkable, it is bound to have at least some kind of impact on the listener.
When swearing, or thinking about swear words, we need to look at what the word is bringing to mind. Is it an unholy word? A word about something gross? A word that brings to mind some inappropriate act?
The question is, why would a person want to put that mental image into someone else‘s mind?
Why Do People Swear When Telling A Joke?
Another question we might ask is, “what is the intended purpose of a swear word when telling a joke?” Sometimes, a person will toss an inappropriate word flippantly into a sentence to generate humor. This is because it may surprise some people to hear the word at all, or to hear it in certain word combinations.
Sometimes a word that is not as inappropriate is substituted for the swear word, producing the same comic relief or surprise. Not too many people seem to mind this sort of verbal wrangling of the mind, especially if it is clever. In fact, some comedians go to great lengths when spicing up their jokes. In this case, whole rooms full of people who are normally conservative with their own use of foul language can wind up roaring with laughter.
Sometimes the amount of impact a swear word has when used in a joke depends on the cleverness and intent of the speaker. The impact can also depend on how the audience receives the inappropriate language. Some people find no humor whatsoever in swearing.
Where Do Swear Words Come From?
To answer the intent question, we need to first take a look at what swear words consist of. Swear words can be categorized based on the type of idea they represent.
Dr. Steven Pinker explains in his 2007 book, The Stuff of Thought, that there are three categories of swear words. Some words have shocking religious connotations. Other taboo words conjure up ideas related to disgusting things like human waste or things that are unclean and can cause disease. Still others words bring up thoughts about private body parts or sexual behavior.
The bottom line is that in most cases, no matter what the intent of the speaker is, swear words tend to trigger negative thoughts or emotions. These words often give the listener an unpleasant feeling, and in some cases they are used in an abusive way.
Why Do People Swear When They Get Hurt? Ouch! %#$!
So what are some other reasons for swearing? Often, a swear word might be used to express strong emotion, such as shock, disgust, frustration or anger. One of the most common examples of a time when a person might be prone to let loose a string of expletives is when they are injured. Shocked by the sudden pain, and usually angry, the person who has just smashed their thumb with a hammer may be seeking relief.
He may also want to vent his anger in some way. No doubt, faced with a situation like this, you’d probably be a liar if you said you had never used some form of a swear word.
Another reason an injured person might use curse words would be to get someone to share in their shock or pain. No one likes to suffer alone.
Why Do Some People Swear When They Are Angry?
Sometimes - and for some people all the time - people use swear words when they are angry. This can be because they want to use their unpleasant words to express how angry they are. They might want to show that they are very disgusted with something or hurt by something.
Sometimes people use these kinds of words to inflict mental or emotional harm on another person. They might want to make a person pay in some way for hurting them. Some people use swearing to build up fear in their opponent or victim just prior to a violent act.
This is usually the time when the vilest swear words are used. Sometimes this abusive verbal behavior is used in order to exert control over another person’s behavior. If an abusive person feels they are losing control of someone they are manipulating, they may use violent language to intimidate them and bring them back into line. Swearing at someone can be accompanied by displays of anger and can be very motivational.
This kind of violent aggression, in some cases, is followed by physical violence. The verbal abuse can be just as damaging to the psyche as physical abuse is to the body.
What Is The Real Reason For Swearing?
The bottom line with swearing is that most of the time it elicits negative feelings in someone else. Whether or not this is intended by the speaker is beside the point.
When we are communicating with another person, we are sharing a little bit of ourselves. If you are full of negative emotion, such as anger, bitterness, vindictiveness or fear, you might be more prone to use swearing to express yourself.
Sometimes people use swearing more when they are with friends, in a casual setting, because it is their habit. But it is still unpleasant. Some people do it to make others think they are cooler or more in control, or to show they don’t have much respect.
Sometimes people, especially young people, find some norms and expectations of society uncomfortable. Swearing may be a way to vent that frustration. It is important to our own well-being and the well-being of others that we give some thought to the causes of swearing. There could be some unresolved issues that need to be dealt with. Or, in some cases, a person might just have gotten used to talking that way and may not know how else to express themselves.
We would all be better off if everyone was more considerate of the feelings of others and careful about choosing how to use their words. This is especially true when in the presence of someone who has deeply held convictions about swearing, or when there are children present.
However, sometimes there is just something comical or satisfying about a properly used "accent" - just like good seasonings on food.
JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on August 05, 2012:
It seems that swearing is used for the lack of other words to express one's self. Some people are easily offended by swearing but others are not. It's prudent to choose our words properly.