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Why Do People Swear?

Updated on January 31, 2012

You hear foul language everywhere from people of all ages. Not everyone is accustomed to such filthy language but it is a part of the culture. Everyone utters a cuss word or two during their daily lives. Some people use it casually and others say it in frustration.

That's why it got me thinking, why do people swear?

The Taboo Words

The "7 dirty words" uttered by late Comedian George Carlin was not a secret at all in the 1970s but saying it on-the-air on television or radio was considered shocking at the time. Carlin's infamous list featured the words "Sh*t," "Piss," "F**k," "C**t," "Co**s**cker," "Motherf***er," and "Tits." Piss and Tits are not "blocked out" because these words have been somewhat accepted by society through the years. As for the others, those words are still listed as taboo.

Not included on the list are other words like G*dammit, f*ggot, and the "N-word." These words are considered blasphemous to Christians, the gay community, and the black community respectively but it becomes offensive based on how it is being used and what group is using it. For others not from those groups, they consider these words to be "hateful" language.

Most people agree that the WAY you use the word may be considered offensive to others.

Swearing Represents a Range of Emotions

Whether you are happy or angry, people swear to express themselves. Of course, most people curse when they are angry than when they are happy.

People utter cuss words when in frustration or upset about something as a way to release their emotions. Most psychologists agree that swearing provides a stress-release for most individuals, releasing their anger or surprise in the process.

In the case of hateful speech used during verbal abuse or sexual harrassment, psychologists are against the use of graphic language that is intentionally used to put-down their intended victim. However, cursing and name-calling in less-severe situations is a better substitute than actual physical violence.

The Power of "Bad Words"

When we learn a new language, we want to learn the "bad words" first. Using graphic language is another way to be accepted within a group or club. For some groups, it is a type of communication or slang that makes members relate to one another.

Most use graphic words to emphasize a certain point in the conversation. Stand-up comedians use swear words all the time to make a funny point. Is it any wonder why foul-mouthed comedians get a larger audience than the "clean comedians?" Go figure.

Children use bad words as a sense of power. Imagine the first time you as a child used a cuss word and found how "powerful" you were at the time. Adults use swearing words to exert power over another person. Psycholgoist John Grohol, founder of Psych Central, found that people who used swear words frequently have similar traits to a person who is domineering, hostile, and possessing a Type A personality. 

There is a "Time and Place" to use Graphic Language

It is up to people to decide when to use curse words when they are in a public area or at a place of business or in a church/synagogue/temple/mosque. Using inappropriate words in certain places all depends if the host says its okay or if the setting permits it. To put it simply, use your best judgement.

Foul language during a business meeting with executives or greeting visitors in your home or welcoming a "man of the cloth" at a conference would not be a good time to utter an expletive. If you're going to a party where swearing is accepted or a gathering of adult people of different ages, then go ahead and release one! Use your best judgement when near children or at a church social or with executives at an after-meeting dinner.

So before you unleash a "bad word" you can consider two things: do it and be subject to someone's wrath or use the saying, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say it." 

CNN Looks Back at George Carlin's 7 Dirty Words


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    • Cantuhearmescream profile image

      Cat 4 years ago from New York

      Paul Bisquera,

      Oh this was just great. I especially liked your take on why kids swear. I never swore in front of my parents, doing so would've resulted in a bar of soap in the mouth. ...But when they weren't around, my brothers and I would throw out swear words like nobody's business. We didn't even make any sense, but boy did we feel big. Now, I occasionally happen upon groups of kids doing the same thing... and I think, "Gee, they have no idea how stupid they sound". They sit and laugh and giggle and watch each other in awe, waiting to come back with an even more daring word. I make sure that I tell my kids I used to do the same thing, but I also tell them it is what simple people use to fill in the blanks when they can't think of a real word to use. Hopefully that will deter them.

      Voted up and Funny

    • Paul Bisquera profile image

      Paul Bisquera 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thanks Kate!

    • Kate Mc Bride profile image

      Kate McBride 6 years ago from Donegal Ireland

      In Ireland,we tell children to stop "cursing"-that is our dialect for swearing.It only becomes a problem if we say "Stop f**kiing cursing" lol.

      Thanks for this original,well-informed hub.Am away here to share it on my facebook wall.

    • Paul Bisquera profile image

      Paul Bisquera 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Thanks for reading Vern! What happens to you at the ski-lift happens to me when I get "cut-off in traffic" and that's when my "son of a military man" comes out! I don't care who is in the car with me, I just let my cuss words loose!

      I know, I know. . . it is a self-control issue but when it comes to your ski-lift and my getting "cut-off in traffic" that rule "goes out the door!"

    • profile image

      Amao babatunde 6 years ago

      People sometimes swear because they believe its a way of showing they are flawless or not responsible for an accusation.

    • vrbmft profile image

      Vernon Bradley 6 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Great Hub!

      I haven't followed up with the latest research, but in my earlier career, I worked with children who were non verbal, and I mean non verbal, except they could cuss like a sailor. At that time, someone told me that cuss or swear words come from the emotional brain and not the speech center. Interesting if that is still substantiated by our latest knowledge of the brain.

      I enjoy cussing and since I do a lot of public speaking and teaching, I have to be very conscious of my use of four letter words as you pointed out in your hub.

      BUT there is one occasion, in particular, when I swear profusely and automatically and I will say without any conscious control! I know, it sounds like a big copout. But if you ski, you know it is a bit of trick getting off the ski lift especially if the person or persons in front of you fall down as they leave their lift seat.

      Now often, the lift operator will immediately stop the lift when that happens until the persons clear the area. But on occasion, they don't. It happens to me, at least once a ski trip, that a little kid will fall down and make my exit from the lift virtually impossible without me donning my superman cape and flying off the lift. Without any pre awareness, I begin with a whole slew of the f words and g damn's and of course, if parents are with the little guy, they look at me like I have gone insane. But what I see is my entire life flashing before my eyes and out comes the cry for survival!

      I always laugh about it later, especially if I have managed not to get knocked out by an offended parent!! but I truly cannot help it. I have tried to remember each time going up the lift, but the adrenalin surge is so incredible when I think I am going to die or break a leg, the words just come flowing.

      Anywho, thanks for a great and interesting hub.


    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 6 years ago from Western NC

      Interesting hub. Thanks for :D

    • Paul Bisquera profile image

      Paul Bisquera 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      thanks ladyjane!

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 6 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      I try never to swear...except when I can't help it...tee hee....but will you swear if you get the good news that your hub has been nominated on the Hubnuggets????

      Congratulations and check your email or read it right here:

    • Debby Bruck profile image

      Debby Bruck 6 years ago

      Hello Paul. 'Television logs every instance of profanity.' Interesting. And, after the exposure of these words by Carlin, they needed to be quantified by a court of law. The cultural norms keep changing with the generations, new usages, and loosening of social mores, perhaps also age groups, neighborhoods, and upbringing.

      The explanation you provided were enlightening. Personally, the less I hear the words the better, although, at times, they may be deemed appropriate for the occasion [just hit your finger with a hammer or slam your hand in the car door] and can explode in laughter in a few select comedy shows. Blessings, Debby

    • natures47friend profile image

      natures47friend 6 years ago from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand.

      Finally an interesting topic...was hopping and hopping till I stopped here and read...yes swearing can be helpful when you stub a toe, but for every sentence to contain swearing.....well, put it this father thinks use of swearing means that you do not have the intellect to think of something else to say. It is a power thing too with certain groups and kids think it can be cool until they learn otherwise.....depending on what word is used and who its directed at!

      Movies have too much in them...maybe if we can educate the movie directors and writers we can get somewhere.

      You deserve to be voted up for this one!

    • Paul Bisquera profile image

      Paul Bisquera 6 years ago from Los Angeles

      Sabrani, I ride on the metro train here in L.A. and swearing is like breathing with some of the passengers. They swear profusely and they don't care if there are kids nearby. You're right, there is too much cursing going on. I keep telling my teens to be more inventive with their words than using a curse word. Thanks for the comment.

    • sabrani44 profile image

      sabrani44 6 years ago

      Interesting hub on a very unique topic. I think people swear way too much these days. Every time something good or bad happens they swear. When did swearing become OK?