“Swear Words” Shouldn’t Be Taboo

Jay_&_Trey_Cartoon_Swearing Brad Bennion

Many people would argue that swearing is full of taboo words. I would argue just the opposite. To be clear, I’m not talking about disturbing speech, i.e., sexual harassment, bullying, etc., I’m talking about “swear words” people use to express a feeling, whether it be excitement or frustration. People who swear should not be judged. In fact, based on some studies argue swearing has a positive effect.

According to a study by psychologists Kristin Jay of Marist College and Timothy Jay of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, published in the journal Language Sciences, swearing parallels fluency in mundane, neutral words — in fact, a billowing vocabulary of curses and slurs indicates a larger vocabulary overall. Those who swear abundantly generally tend to be more eloquent.” This is only one of the many studies I found that suggest the same thing.

Other outlets that have published studies are The Free Thought Project, Elite Daily, The Washington Post, the BBC and more. All agree people who swear tend to have higher IQs, bigger vocabularies and tend to be more affluent and creative.

When thinking about the English language you have to think of the individual words. You have to think of meanings behind a word, the context it is being used in, and what the goal of the word being used is. Other words besides “swear words” can be derogatory if used in a certain context and/or tone. So why are certain words considered taboo when others can be more hurtful or harmful? The Association for Psychological Science wrote, “there is little (if any) social-science data demonstrating that a word in and of itself causes harm. A closely related problem is the manner in which harm has been defined — harm is most commonly framed in terms of standards and sensibilities such as religious values or sexual mores.” Any word, not just swear words, can cause more harm if used in such a manner.

Who decided which words were appropriate or not? In certain cultures, swear words are just words. In the military, the “F” word is used as a verb, adjective, pronoun, etc. You come up with a sentence and a military member could say the same sentence using the “F” word, with it making complete sense. In this case, the military member isn’t being derogatory but simply using a “word” to relay a message. No one is looking at the person thinking they are any less intelligent or articulate.

Think of the most respected people in America such as presidents or celebrities. In 2003, Senator John Kerry talked to Rolling Stone about his decision to vote for the Iraq war, saying, “Did I expect George Bush to f___ it up as badly as he did? I don’t think anybody did.” In March, Vice President Biden happily called the health care reform bill a “big f______ deal,” while last year Obama called Kanye West a “jackass” (TIME magazine). Don’t think these are the only respected politicians’ “swear words” on the record. Lyndon B. Johnson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Richard Nixon and more have all been quoted using “swear words.” In each instance these words are being used as a way of making a point. The idea only certain words should be labeled as “taboo” is ridiculous. Words are meant to express. As long as you aren’t harming someone, why hold back? People who don’t swear don’t have to swear, but should not look down on another person for just using words.

So if you drop a “swear word,” don’t feel like you need to apologize. My guess is even people who “don’t swear” still utter those words from time to time.

a.barney@dailyutahchronicle.com