Expletives are a prevalent form of communication in our culture. It seems night-time reality television blurts out more bleeps than a garbage truck stuck in reverse as our standards toward filthy language may have softened. Still, many people are not comfortable with dropping an f-bomb or even an a-bomb in public, and there are no hard and fast rules on who should swear and when.
Many cultures have considered swearing more appropriate for men than for women. Men often use swearing to establish a masculine identity or to express group solidarity, and studies have shown that men in the English-speaking world swear in public up to around 15 percent more frequently than women do [source: AdAge]. Women are typically held to a stricter standard. Society tends to make harsher moral judgments about women who swear. Women also generally consider swearwords more powerful and frequently feel guiltier about using them.
Almost every language in the world has its own swearwords, and people from every race and class in the English-speaking world swear. Nearly three-quarters of men swear in public, and more than half of women do, as do 74 percent of people 18 to 34 years old and around half of people over 55 years old [source: AdAge]. Studies have also shown that men swear more than women. However you add it up, even though swearwords are considered naughty, most people can't resist them.
There may be a valid scientific reason for our use of swear words. According to a 2009 study at England's Keele University, swearing can help us cope with pain. In this experiment, students were asked to submerge their hands in cold water, and they were allowed to repeat either expletives or neutral words while they endured the pain. The subjects who let fly with curse words were able to keep their hands in the frigid water longer. This led Dr. Richard Stephens to speculate that swearing's connection to our emotions might make pain or stress more tolerable [source: Scientific American].
So, if we all release our inner George Carlins, we'll live happier, stress-free lives, right? Not exactly. In a 2011 follow-up study, Stephens found that people who swear more often receive less benefit from letting a dirty word slip. After filling out a questionnaire about how often they swore, test subjects plunged their hands in the cold water. Subjects who swear on a daily basis received less benefit by using expletives [source: Keele]. The moral of this story: save those verbal bombs, and drop them only when they'll help you the most.
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