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The Power of Profanity: When Is It Okay To Swear?

Updated: Nov 2, 2021

Art by Lily Hoagland

The “a-word,” the “b-word,” the “c-word,” the “s-word,” the “f-word.” See how easily each one came into mind? Swear words have become so normalized in the present day that often times, saying them wouldn’t even get you a second glance. When you’re younger, you’re told to never swear, especially in front of or towards other people, and even when you’re in pain. Of course, you try not to, but as you grow older, the casualness of the vernacular slowly begins to surround you more and more until you adapt to it. First, they start off as thoughts, spoken from your internal dialogue, but then, you begin to use them. It almost seems natural. “Everyone else says it,” you say. What makes cursing so despicable? They’re just words, right?

As someone who used to strongly advocate for “swearing is horrible and shouldn't be done at any cost” I understand why people shine a bad light on it. By definition, swearing is just plain rude and disrespectful. Despite this, I find that in normal, everyday life, I can’t get through a single day without hearing a swear word. It's not something I noticed right away, but the more I started to pay attention to the world around me, the more I realized how normalized swearing has become.

There is a time and place to swear. Cursing really depends on the situation at hand. Stubbed your toe on the table or smashed your finger into the door? Swear. According to the Philadelphia CBS, swearing helps the body combat pain. It’s referred to as the analgesic response, which makes the body more impervious to pain. By yelling curse words out loud, you can help numb the pain by expressing your frustration and discomfort. While I understand that a lot of the time, people use swearing to express or elaborate on a point, I think that can be okay depending on the choice of words. Swearing to an excess, however, can sometimes be seen as extreme and cringeworthy, sending a strike of awkwardness through anyone within earshot. However, it's when you start to swear in anger towards other people that things start to take a turn for the worse.

It’s pretty obvious that when you use curse words to berate people, you can make them feel hurt and scared. People always say that “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” As much as we’re told this, it has never been true. Using swear words against someone can be considered verbal abuse, which can be just as bad as physical abuse. Talking down to someone can hurt them, and just not physically. Mental scars can cause panic and fear to strike through the person, as well as change their perspective towards you.

Technically speaking, it’s verbal harassment if other people can hear you swearing. Cursing upsets many people and it’s important to take into consideration the thoughts and feelings of everyone around you. Everyone has a right to feel safe and hearing loud nasty words can make people feel otherwise. Words hold a lot of power. They are arguably the most impactful force available to everyone. Spoken words have united societies, brought peace to people, helped find solutions to problems… but words have also destroyed friendships, destroyed communities, and destroyed nations. We can use this energy and this force to help people heal, or we could use it to hurt others.

People tend to swear mainly just because they hear those words so often. In our day and age, it’s not uncommon for people to swear–and sometimes, people don’t even get reprimanded for it. When I was on campus, I noticed that a lot of the people I hung out with or passed in the halls tended to use swear words to express their point or to tell people off. From this, I think that people slowly adapt to the words around them–at least that’s how it's been for me. We are humans. We mimic other people in order to form stronger opinions and bonds. Sometimes, we swear because everyone else seems to do it… almost as if it's a way to make people feel better about themselves; like it's an adult thing or it makes you appear cooler because you’re taking the power of language into your own hands.

I’ve slowly begun to add more of these words to my everyday vernacular, and I’m not proud of it. I can name countless numbers of times where I’ve sworn in disbelief, in anger, or in pain, and most of the time, the words just slip out. I surprise myself sometimes when I say them aloud, and I’d prefer to just swear in my mind or under my breath rather than make other people upset or disappointed in my choice of words. Like a lot of other people, they’ve begun to become a part of my everyday speech, so I guess I’m off to the time-out corner to think about my actions.

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