THE EAR OF THE BEHOLDER

By Dr. Nancy Irwin

Find yourself cussing and swearing more lately?  You are not alone.  The average American is dealing with much higher levels of frustration, anger, anxiety and depression right now. Addictive behaviors and other self-abuse are also on the rise.  So if your scatology is your worst offense, you are really doing OK.

“Blue” language can actually be a virtually harmless coping mechanism…as long as you know your audience and respect them.  Venting with a few spicy words here and there, in a safe setting, can actually be very freeing for you.  After all, words really only the have the power we give them, and most four-letter words are derived from acronyms (e.g., Ship High in Transit was a mariner’s manure cargo label) and from dialectical origins. As well, when we over-use certain words, they lose their power.

In addition to being a fairly socially acceptable stress reliever, swearing can be cultural, attention-getting, rebellious, or sexual. It can be driven by passion, amazement, and of course, anger.  Vocal tone, body language, and the energy behind the words are more telling about one’s attitude and intent than actual words. We exclaim with “colorful words” on such joyous occasions as flying down a roller coaster, beholding a natural wonder. When anger is predominantly driving your swearing, then it can actually increase your anger and anxiety. With repetition, it reinforces the grooves in the neuronal pathways, and causes your anger, literally, to deepen. Of course, this means if you have a positive association to swear words, it will deepen your enjoyment of them!
When used discriminately, it can be a wonderful outlet for stress.     Look at your 401(k) statement; you are stuck in traffic on your way to a job interview; picture Ruth Madoff sitting in her Manhattan penthouse; AIG’s bonuses.  If your commentary on these situations is fit for broadcast on CNN, then I applaud you.  If you can honestly get stress relief from “Oh, blast! This is truly an undesirable situation!” you can actually minimize the anxiety, anger, and hasten its dissipation.

Swear words generally fall into three categories: Deistic: “Oh, My God!” and the ever-popular “G—D—” expression. Or condemning someone to hell (and of course the legendary combination of the last two.)  Visceral: body parts and functions (pleasant or un-).  Interesting how we denigrate our most life-affirming act and favorite body parts, huh? Not to mention the incestual suggestions (“MoFo”)! Sometimes we combine the deistic and the visceral (Holy S—!)  Racial.  I won’t even dignify these with abbreviations, for personally, I find these the most profane of all.

So, if you enjoy making truck drivers blush, knock yourself out. If you are out of control – – can’t choose cleaner words around children, those whom you know it offends, in a business meeting, or on the air – – then you might want to seek help for impulse control or anger management.  Start reading fine literature and expanding your language skills. Vocabularies limited to the lower levels offend some people more than others.  Again, just know your audience.  It’s all in the ear of the beholder. We all have boundaries to be respected: physical, sexual, ethical, visual, olfactory, tactile, and auditory.

If you think I’m defending swearing here, well, hell, you are garl-durn abso-fricking-lutely entitled to prefer higher English!