In Defense of the Four-Letter Word

July 16, 2018|Posted in: Uncategorized

I have never considered myself a writer, per se, so I don’t know if this is normal, but whenever I remember to post here (a small miracle in itself), I sit down and just type like crazy until it feels like I have something that roughly resembles a point.

Once I have a whole bunch of sentences on the screen, I have one of the hardest jobs, at least for me: going through and taking out all the swear words while still having the end result sound like me.

Seriously, anyone who knows me at knows I cuss like the proverbial sailor. Parties where I don’t know many people can be excruciating, because all my energy goes into keeping my lips together so I don’t end up dropping an f-bomb in front of someone who turns out to be the local Methodist minister.

Hey, just because *I* don’t believe in God doesn’t mean I want to offend someone who does. I’m at least THAT close to polite.

Actually, I think it has less to do with being polite and more about having respect, and the same goes for my little epistles here: I don’t find historically taboo words to be offensive. Some of my readers, however–and Mom, I’m looking at you–certainly might. And since my known readership is somewhere in the double digits, I certainly can’t afford to lose any of you.

So I do. I edit. I try to keep the posts clean. But having said that, there’s still part of me that wants to say “Get over it … they’re just words.” You know, “sticks and stones” and all that? It’s just really not that big of a deal.

As it turns out, experts agree with me.

Yeah, I know, I was pretty floored, too. But according to Richard Stephens, psychologist at Keele University and author of the book “Black Sheep: The Hidden Benefits of Being Bad,” swearing could be a sign of a higher IQ. That counters what we all learned growing up, that people who swear are dumber and only swore because they didn’t know the right word to use.

Stephens quotes what he calls “a really neat study” that discovered that people who knew the most swear words also had the best general language ability. That suggests that swearing is something that people have and know and can use–or not. In other words, it’s a psychological tool like, say, tact: you can use it when you need it, and lose it when you don’t.

It may not always be EASY to turn it on and off–hence my problem at parties. But I CAN do it: I only struggle because it is a habit. I know that I am perfectly capable of using articulate and descriptive language to carry on a mature, intelligent conversation (if I absolutely have to). Business people call this “adapting the product to a niche that needs filling.”

Other experts think swear words may be associated with older parts of the brain (which explains why kids start cursing long before their language centers are fully formed). This belief is based on the fact that most language is located in the cortex and specific language areas in the left hemisphere.

But … people who have suffered a stroke or other damage to the parts of the brain that deal with language control can sometimes still sing songs or swear fluently. That implies a direct disconnect between swearing and language. Language is an ongoing, changing ability, whereas the shrinks are now thinking that swearing is associated with a more basic brain structure called the basal ganglia.

I don’t know either, but it sure sounded impressive.