Every year, there is one present that exceeds all expectation and this year one lovely friend surpassed herself. She provided me with the antidote to the annual setting of New Year resolutions. She bought me “Swearing Is Go*d F*r You“ by Emma Byrne.
I come from Ireland where the use of an occasional swear word or a curse is tolerated. In fact, the book describes this as a proud tradition of jocular abuse and disrespect for authority combined to make for a robust approach to swearing.
When I arrived in England, I shocked a number of people by using the word “Fe**” in what I thought was quite a judicious situation! I was genuinely shocked by the reactions. Since then, the English public seem to have shifted their tolerance levels and welcomed Father Ted and Mrs Brown, who overly rely on curse words to finish a punchline!
Apparently, according to Byrne, swearing is surprisingly flexible and reinvents itself from generation to generation as taboos shift. Recently there was an amusing story in the Metro about the residents of Bell End who want to change their road name.
So, instead of resolutions, I implore you to become an expert on expletives, replace the tedious book on management that is lying by your bed and spice up your reading list with a copy of Geoffrey Hughes book “Swearing: A Social History of Foul Language, Oaths and Profanity in English.”
What’s the point of this book? It has given me scientifically researched and approved permission to use one of my most instinctive coping mechanisms: swearing.
It confirms what most of us already knew, that swearing has many useful roles in communication. It can be used to threaten, warn, amuse and funnily enough, reduce a tense moment. I always thought the complete banning of the occasional swear word was weird – and of course, women who swear are doubly frowned upon. But nothing can address a moment of anger with yourself like a strong sh***, or something similar.
So, let us prepare for the challenges of 2018, which will be tricky, even economists will get that right this year. Instead of feeling guilty about failing to achieve depressingly impossible resolutions – or even worse, smug SMART personal targets – read this book. When you get a snort or a sneer from someone, chase them right back with some swearing science.
Here are my favourite facts:
“ … research shows swearing can help build teamwork in the workplace” (p2)
“… swearing has helped with the field of neuroscience and been used as a research tool for over 150 years including discovering some fascinating things about the structure of the human brain.” (p2)
“Swearing makes our heart beat faster and primes us to think aggressive thoughts while, paradoxically, making us less likely to be physically violent.” (p3)
“Study after study has shown that swearing is as likely to be used in frustration with oneself or in solidarity, or to amuse someone as it is to be used as fighting words.” (p6)
“Swearing is very specialised and emotionally fluent form of language that requires us to have a mental model of emotions not just of ourselves but also of the person who hears us swearing.” (p37)
“Swearing is a powerful shortcut – an emotionally freighted part of language that lets us communicate complex things in an urgent way.” (p45)
And finally: “Swearing helps you manage pain, illness and social discomfort.” (p60) – what better skill could you have in your repertoire when preparing to face a new year?