Well, as it turns out, using offensive language or swearing can be very liberating. It can also “help individuals process emotions, establish social bonds, and express their feelings in certain contexts,” as affirmed by medical publisher Psychiatrist.com.

Many studies show that profanity is a social, indispensable, and ubiquitous element of language. Its use can help reduce stress and anxiety, manage pain, and increase strength and endurance. To curse (or swear, cuss, blaspheme, utter profanities, use bad language, let expletives fly, be foul-mouthed – whatever you call it) can even create tighter bonds with friends and colleagues. Its liberating power stems from the process of releasing strong or repressed emotions, acting as a relief mechanism.

But what is swearing exactly? “Swearing refers to the use of specific, negatively charged and often emotionally loaded terms, which are taboo in a given language/culture and thus have strong potential to cause offence.” Its effects include “emotional force and arousal; increased attention and memory; heightened autonomic activity, such as heart rate and skin conductance; hypoalgesia (pain relief); increased strength and stamina; and a range of distinctive interpersonal, relational and rhetorical outcomes.” That’s according to a 2022 article in Lingua on the power of swearing.

To be specific, the article also states that: “In modern times, most recognisable swear words fall into one of three core categories: religion (e.g., damn, hell); sex and sexual body parts (e.g., fuck, cunt, prick); and words related to bodily excretions (e.g., piss, arse, shit).”

Foul language has likely existed to express strong emotions since humans began using language. Depending on how they are used, though, curse words can be destructive or encouraging. They can be annoyance or social based. Annoyance swearing “is primarily intrapersonal in purpose, providing emotional relief and a form of stress management. It is usually negatively charged. Social swearing, on the other hand, serves interpersonal functions, such as group bonding and impression management. Most social swearing is seen as positively charged.”

Annoyance swearing is related to stress and tension, and provides a relief mechanism in those circumstances. It’s a sign of anger or irritation, as when someone utters a curse word when they stub their toe. Where it is permitted in high-stress workplaces, this kind of swearing “tends to increase stress for individuals, and hinders positive group norms and cohesion, hampering both individuals’ and groups’ well being,” according to research published in the Leadership & Organization Development Journal.

Social swearing, in contrast, can signify membership to a social group. Certain work environments, for example, allow “a lively, boisterous communication style, with friendly insults and a witty use of coarse, casual profanity. Swearing is then seen to be a mark of solidarity within the group.”

It’s hard to know which language includes the most swear words. But interestingly enough, these words include a higher proportion of certain distinct speech sounds (called “phonemes”) in multiple world languages. It appears that plosive consonants (which are spoken by stopping the airflow in the mouth) in English – t, k, p, b, d, g – and affricate sounds (which are hybrid consonants because they consist of two sounds) in English – ch, tch, j, dg, gg, dj – are more prominent in profanity than other sounds. The reason could be that these speech sounds are more abrasive or aggressive than other units of speech, making the words sound harsh. What is certain is that each culture has its own way of expressing swear words and their sounds play a role in the message.

In any case, people using vulgar, socially unacceptable language not spoken in polite conversation should do so consciously (versus unthinkingly or carelessly) and only in situations in which they do so intentionally. That’s because thoughtless, crude, offensive language can cause a great deal of harm and can even be prosecuted under certain specific criminal laws (such as when it incites violence).

Doggone it! Do you consciously cuss when you want to express a strong emotion, or do you sometimes blurt out the swear word without thinking? It pays to think about it and give a darn.


NB: EditOr Proof apologizes to readers offended by the appearance of swear words in this post. They were included solely to clarify the subject of this article.

Featured image by freeimageslive.co.uk (Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License)