HELL YEAH

Swearing: it’s fucking awesome

President Barack Obama didn’t act like a typical president when he took a break from running the country to hang out with Jerry Seinfeld, driving a Corvette and drinking coffee. And Obama admitted that he doesn’t always sound presidential either. The leader of the United States, it seems, is a fan of swearing. He told Seinfeld:

“I curse. I curse. … Bad stuff, or stupid stuff, is happening constantly, right? Every day. So you have to be able to just make fun of a lot of that. Like ‘that was even dumber and more annoying than usual.’ That’s when cursing is really valuable.”

Though the prim and proper may frown upon this language from a head of state, profanities are a healthy part of our lexicon. And plenty of studies have found that the odd bit of swearing can in fact be very good for you.

In 2009, psychologists from Keele University in the UK found that swearing can even help relieve pain. Some 67 participants were asked to keep their hands submerged in ice cold water as along as possible, either repeating a swear word or a neutral word over and over. Those who were swearing were able to keep their hand submerged for longer, and also reported feeling less pain.

One possible explanation for this phenomenon is that swearing is neurologically linked with the flight-or-fight response and is a reflexive form of aggression.

Timothy Jay, a psychologist at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts who has studied cursing for 35 years, says profanities are an irreplaceable form of expression. “There is no other way to say fuck you and convey the same level of contempt in polite language,” he writes in a theoretical linguistics paper.

That said, swearing is not just about contempt. “It allows us to vent or express anger, joy, surprise, happiness,” Jay told Scientific American. “It’s like the horn on your car—you can do a lot of things with it. It’s built into you.”

One of the earliest studies of swearing, published in 1960, supports this theory that swearing is about more than just anger. The study occurred when a zoologist expedition to Arctic Norway went wrong, and psychologist Helen Ross used the experience to catalogue use of curse words. Ross found that, although swearing increased during stressful times, significantly more curse words were used when the group was happy. This was labeled “social swearing,” and a sign of being “one of the gang.”

Monika Bednarek, senior lecturer in linguistics at the University of Sydney, has catalogued the number of profanities in the most popular US TV (there are a lot), and agrees that swearing is important in social situations.

“Swearing is important for creating close relationships, friendship or intimacy with others, and bonds can be formed around it,” she told The Daily Beast.

So don’t begrudge Obama the odd swear word. As he himself said after the BP oil spill in 2010, sometimes he just needs to know “whose ass to kick.”

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