Swearing More is a Sign of Healthy Verbal Ability, Study Suggests
She was an 87 year old patient, who, when I first met her told me she had been waiting for my visit because she had a really important question to ask me.
My mind went to the usual things like:
“WHY DOES GOD ALLOW SUFFERING?”
“IS THERE A HEAVEN AND HOW DO I KNOW I’LL GET THERE?”
“WHAT IF I HAVEN’T BEEN GOOD ENOUGH; GIVEN ENOUGH?”
“WHAT ABOUT FORGIVENESS?”
N O. . .
“IS IT BAD IF I SWEAR, I MEAN A LOT AND I REALLY LIKE IT; IT REALLY FEELS GOOD?“
We often link the use of slurs and profanities to people who’re rude and ignorant and we view them as impolite and unacceptable in everyday speech. But, even though the use of profanities is still frowned upon, the people who use them may not be as ignorant as we previously believed. According to the 2014 study, conducted by Kristin Joy and Timothy Jay, psychologists, the use of swear words may be a sign of a better vocabulary.
Language Sciences published one part of the study in 2014 which involved 43 subjects who were in their late teens to their early 20ties and had their knowledge of profanities compared to their general vocabulary knowledge. The subjects were first tested with COWAT (the controlled oral word association test) in order to determine the subjects’ ability to list words on command. They were asked to write down as many animals and curse words they could think of starting with a given letter in a minute or so. Next, the participants were asked to list as many animals and curse words they knew in general, also in under a minute. The use of animal names was supposed to be an indication of the subjects’ overall vocabulary and general interest in language. Their results were then compared and analyzed.
The researchers were able to conclude that the ability to produce profanities and curse words is not a sign of overall limited vocabulary. On the contrary, they discovered that fluency in curse words is positively linked to verbal fluency. A rich curse words vocabulary may be a sign of healthy vocabulary rather than a cover for vocabular deficiencies.
If you were curious, the top 3 curse words that appeared most frequently in the test were ‘f*ck’, ‘bi*ch’ and ‘sh*t’, as you may have assumed. There were more than 400 swear words generated in total and only some of them were so creative to be encountered just once. The researchers were surprised to discover that people frequently use creative compositions like ‘cockass’ and ‘ass pirate’.
In conclusion, we must point out that the most important finding in this small sized study only confirmed the hypothesis fluency is fluency. According to the hypothesis, word proficiency is more or less universal, regardless of context. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that if you swear more often you have a richer vocabulary. Moreover, the study doesn’t suggest that fluency is the same as frequency, meaning that it wasn’t able to determine whether swear words are spoken more frequently by people with limited vocabulary or lower IQ or not.
The sample size for the study we refer to is rather small and until a larger scale study is conducted we can only speculate and wait for
confirmation. . .and I’m fairly sure it didn’t include 87 year old hospice patients.
Most of the time when a patient asks me any question I usually answer with a question:
“WELL WHAT DO YOU THINK?”
She didn’t pause much before answering:
“I really think it’s alright. I mean the only thing I was really worried about was that it’s not just swearing, it’s REALLY SWEARING. And my favorite go to word when I’m really upset or mad is f*ck; when I shout THAT word, I almost always feel better. . .”
“I think you might have answered your own question, what do you think?”
Again, very little pause before answering, “It’s not like I’m using the Lord’s name in vain, I mean always thought it wasn’t so much what I said as the way I acted or treated someone else. I’ve never called anyone THAT, I just love saying, f*ck when I’m the most upset–it seems to cover what I can’t say or explain. . .”
I asked: “Do you think God knows how we feel without ever saying it or explaining or even praying?”
“Yeah,” she said almost in a sigh. “Yeah I think he knows,” and then almost as if she clicked on some inner light, she beamed, “And who gets me more than God; he made me this way.”
“Hey, you’re going to come back and see me again, aren’t you?”
“I was hoping you would be thinking that’s ok.”
“Absolutely,” she said. “You give great advice.”
Maybe it was something I didn’t say?