The other day, I was thinking about cussing.
No, I wasn’t pondering whether I should cuss. I was thinking about the subject of cussing. (You usually don’t think about cussing before you cuss, you just do it. That’s sort of the point.)
What prompted this is the realization that cussing can make me feel better.
Say, I hit my funny bone. For some reason, yelling an obscenity makes me feel a little better. Same when some idiot cuts me off in traffic. Calling that driver an unmentionable name makes me feel a little better. Or, if I hear something objectionable on the news, I feel a little better after I scream a profanity at the TV.
I started wondering if cussing really makes me feel better or whether I am just rationalizing a bad habit. And if it really makes me feel better, why does it? (As one friend constantly reminds me, I’ve got too much time on my hands.)
So I started thinking about the subject of cussing. You know, cursing. Profanity. Swearing. Expletives. Bad words. Dirty words. Obscene language. Indecent language. Choice words. Blue language. Swear words. Foul language. Vulgar language. 4-letter words. Adult language.
I even did some research which yielded these 12 interesting facts about cussing . . .
- There are scores of taboo words in English but 10 – fuck, shit, hell, damn, goddam, Jesus Christ, God, Oh My God, bitch and sucks – account for 80% of the cussing. (To me, sucks is not a cuss word, but what do I know?)
- Fuck and shit alone account for about 1/3 to ½ of all cussing. (They’re the Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth of cuss words.)
- These top 10 most frequently used cuss words remained essentially the same from 1986 to 2006 – although over much longer periods, what are considered curse words can change.
- Typical speakers use about 15,000 to 16,000 words per day. Studies show that the percentage of taboo words is typically between .03% and .07%. That’s around 80-90 taboo words per day per person. (In the rest of this article, I will probably meet my quota for the day.)
- There are substantial individual differences. Some speakers use profanity 0% of the time and the maximum rate shown in the studies is 3.4%. (What the hell is that 3.4% guy’s problem?)
- Men swear more frequently in public than women, but the gap is closing. In 1986, men accounted for 67% of public swearing, but by 2006, the gap had narrowed to 55%.
- Men say more offensive words (fuck, shit, motherfucker) more frequently than women do. Women say Oh my God, bitch, piss and retard more frequently than men do.
- Men and women swear more frequently in the presence of their gender than in mixed-gender groups.
- Swearing occurs across all age ranges but it peaks during the teenage years and declines thereafter.
- Social rank plays a role in swearing. Socially low-ranking speakers produced higher rates of swearing than did high-ranking speakers.
- Personality also plays a significant role in frequency of cursing. Hostile swearing is a defining feature of a Type A personality.
- On the other hand, swearing is not as prevalent in populations characterized by high religiosity, sexual anxiety or sexual repressiveness.
Rules For Cussing
After thinking about this, and doing my research, here’s what I have concluded.
Cussing has existed since the beginning of language, and it exists in all languages. Most people cuss at one time or another — some more than others, of course. Since cussing has persisted over all these years, and is so pervasive, it must satisfy a need.
Actually, there are a number of needs cussing meets. We cuss in a number of different circumstances. For example, couples use curse words for intimate sex talk. And groups use cussing to bond, as a social lubricant. As in, “I haven’t seen this son of a bitch in years.”
But, mainly, we use cussing to vent, to blow off steam. To express and release emotion, mainly anger and frustration.
That’s why I let ‘er rip when my computer is not cooperative, when another driver is driving 10 mph below the speed limit in the fast lane or when it starts to rain when I am doing an outdoor activity.
I am convinced there are actually benefits to cussing in some circumstances.
There’s actually a study from Great Britain which concluded that cussing helps deal with pain. In that study, they had a number of volunteers hold their hands in frigid water until it became painful. Some of the subjects could repeat cuss words. The other group could only use non-taboo words. The researchers found that the cussing volunteers could withstand the pain longer.
I think there’s another study that concluded that cussing relieves tension.
Since I don’t see any chance that I’ll completely banish cussing, I have established some (somewhat tongue in cheek) personal rules for cussing and here they are:
- 1. I won’t overdo it. Cuss too much and it loses its “magic.” When in doubt, leave it out.
2. I’ll consider my audience. Without a good reason, I will try not to cuss around people I think will be offended. But see the exception to Rule 3.
3. I’ll cuss at situations and circumstances, but I won’t cuss at people . . . unless they deserve it. But if they deserve it, there is no substitute for “fuck you!.” I’m serious. I don’t know any way to convey the same intensity and emotion using non-taboo words. Just remember Rule 1.
4. I will try to use the lowest ranking cuss word that will do the trick. This is related to Rule 1. If you use the heavy duty curses too often, they lose their effectiveness.
5. I will feel free to cuss within groups that I am a member of where cussing is accepted, but I will also feel free not to cuss.
6. I will use cussing in jokes when it makes them funnier. I’m thinking of a particular joke where the punch line “Are you going to play golf or are you going to fuck around?” is 10 times funnier than the “screw around” version. Although I’ll consider my audience and avoid the joke altogether if appropriate – see Rule 2 — I’m going to keep using the funnier line.
7. When writing, I will use cuss words when they are the best way to convey what I want. But only then.
8. I will never use racial, ethnic or group epithets. Period.
With all of this said, I’m sure that, as is the case now, I won’t cuss very often. Just when it’s necessary . . . or when something really pisses me off.