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The Power Of Words: Why You Shouldn’t Swear

12.09.2019 Author: Psychologist Pavel Khoroshutin

According to surveys conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation in 2017, about 60% of respondents said they ‘occasionally’ use profanity. As for children and young people, the situation is equally depressing: more than half of high school students said that they swear freely in front of their peers. [1] We all know that swearing is uncivilized and considered bad form. Nevertheless, the use of profanity doesn’t really bother anyone nowadays – after all, this is such an ordinary thing in our life! Indeed, what’s so bad about swearing? Let’s try to understand how profanity affects people, both physically and emotionally.

Why You Shouldn't Swear


Swearing: the meaning

Swearing the meaning

Swearing refers to words or phrases, mainly intended to affront interlocutors or to express opinion on your actions or actions of other people. Profanity is offensive to public morals, but still seems to be common everywhere.

Yu. Levin, Soviet linguist and literary critic, identified following typical functions of swearing:

·         abusive, intended to express aggression to interlocutor;

·         cathartic, intended to relieve stress;

·         automatic, intended to fill gaps in the conversation;

·         expressive, intended to make the speaking style more emotional. [2]

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History of profanity

History of profanity

It is difficult for scientists to trace the occurrence of swear words. However, it is reliably known that swear words were used in Russia in the 12th and13th centuries, since confirmations of this were found in ancient chronicles and annals. According to historians, in ancient times obscene words had rather a jocular function, rather than ‘aggressive’ one, as it is now. [3]

Swear words acquired the status of ‘words unacceptable for using in public’ in 18th century. After which the problem of profanity began to be seriously discussed. It started to be a kind of marker: if a person expressed his or her thoughts in a ‘bad’ way, it meant that he or she lived life of dubious virtue. Until the middle of the 19th century usage of ‘bad’ words was a good reason for punishment in the form of public whipping.

Despite all the prohibitions, in the 20th century profanity became an integral part of Russian language. Swear words started to be used by both poets and lumpers. Thus, profanity has ceased to be a sign of only the lower tier of society.

As in ancient times, nowadays the authorities are trying to fight against profanity. For example, the use of swear words in public places can be regarded as petty hooliganism, which may entail a fine or administrative punishment. However, it only applies to cases where swearing is used for the purpose of insulting interlocutor.

Why profane language is bad for you: true stories

Why profane language is bad for you: true stories

“I’ve been swearing probably since I was a teenager. It just became a habit. Now I have no filter on my mouth. It doesn’t matter to whom I talk with – ‘bad’ words slip in from time to time.

Frankly, I’ve never had problems with that. But when I got a ‘good’ job, I saw that my colleagues were talking with each other politely, and this was normal for them. I realized that I didn’t fit in at work. I try to control myself, but it doesn’t always work. I think the problem is that I’m no longer able to express any idea, even a simple one, without cursing”.

– Ekaterina, 25

One of the negative consequences of misusing ‘bad’ language is the inability to communicate with people in normal way. This may turn into a huge problem, because in some areas such communication is considered unacceptable. That’s why self-control is an important skill.

“My husband always curses at me. He can easily say to me to fuck of without even apologizing afterwards. I always argue with him, I ask him not to swear at home. But it seems he doesn’t really care about my feelings. He says he has a ‘stressful’ job. He swears there all the time, and automatically continues using swearing at home.

This frustrates me so badly. I never swear, since I consider swear words offensive”.

– Elena, 32

On the surface, it seems that swearing is harmless to humans. But if overused it can become a bad habit. Getting rid of it, according to psychologists, is just as difficult as fighting, for example, smoking and alcoholism. [2]

The first step in fighting profanity is to find out the cause of such an unhealthy behavior pattern. When misusing obscene words, a person often tries to hide his or her own vulnerability, self-doubt, fears or other problems.

What scientists say about the power of swearing

What scientists say about the power of swearing

There have been some cases in medical practice, when people paralyzed after a stroke were unable to say a single word, but could swear easily. For this reason, experts suggest that swearing has a different psychophysiological origin than ‘ordinary’ words.

R. Stevens, a senior professor of psychology at Keele University in the UK, has a hypothesis that many doctors agreed to. He states that swear words have pain- or stress-relieving effects. A swear word, pronounced in the hit of the moment, causes the release of a dose of adrenaline.
R. Stevens conducted an interesting experiment: undergraduate volunteers were asked to submerge their hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating swear words. After this experiment, he found that volunteers tolerated pain better when swearing.
He says that swearing “does increase heart rate: It seems to cause the fight-or-flight response”. [4]

However, one should not hope that swear words save the world and relieve humanity from stress and pain! In 2011, R. Stevens continued his research and found that the ‘veteran cussers’, who used swear words at least 60 times a day, no longer felt any ‘analgesic effect’ from this. Thus, the emotional response to swear words in brain cells is weakened by their frequent usage. [4]

However, although swear words could help a person cope with pain and stress, they affect the people around in a negative way. The University of Arizona researchers conducted an experiment that proved that swearing repels other people. During the experiment, women diagnosed with breast cancer or rheumatoid arthritis wore registrars, and experts noted the frequency of their use of profanity with family and friends. As a result, it was found that women who cursed received less support from their loved ones. [4]

Does the use of bad language affect human health?

bad language affect human health

In evidence-based medicine, there is no evidence that swearing affects human health in a negative way. Despite this, there are many different theories and hypotheses.

Soviet biologist I. Belyavsky showed with mathematical accuracy that both the person and the words spoken have an energetic charge. Thus, he states that profanity is a negative factor that destroys human from within. Based on his research, I. Belyavsky suggested that people who used swear words daily, very quickly developed age-related changes at the cellular level, and, following it, various diseases. According to the scientist, this is the main reason why people should stop using swear words. [5]

Dr. E. Odintsova believes in her turn that swearing can cause genetic mutations. In this regard, an experiment was conducted: scientists were invited to curse at plants. After the seeds of Arabidopsis were subjected to obscene verbal exposure, they were planted into the ground. As a result, most of them did not sprout, and minority of surviving plants had genetic deformities. [5]

Doctors are very skeptical of all statements about mutations and ‘energetically charged’ words. But we cannot deny the effect of positive and negative emotions on human health! If a person swears, because he or she always feels stressed, then sooner or later, this will have a consequence on the physical level. So, it is not the swear words themselves, which are to blame, but the person’s psycho-emotional state. His or her personality problems, which become the reason for the constant use of obscene language, can really affect human health negatively. [2]

Why children shouldn’t curse

Why children shouldn’t curse

A child’s first swear could be said as early as at the age of 3. But when kids swear at this age, it’s likely because they’re repeating what they’ve heard from someone else. To change your child’s behavior, you should control the way you react. Firstly, don’t overreact if you child does swear, otherwise your kid may repeat swear words in an effort to get your attention. Secondly, there is no need to try to find out where your kid learned these words or scold him/her. Just quickly turn his or her attention to something else.

Children 8 years or older use swear words intentionally. So, it is important to explain to the child that it is a bad way of talking, as early as possible. But the problem of profanity usually becomes serious a little later, in early adolescence. A teenager swears in order to ‘fit in’ with a company of peers, to ‘prove’ his or her freedom and independence to adults.

According to psychologists, abusive language has a negative effect on a child’s general development, such as:

·         Difficulties in communicating with others start to appear;

·         Feeling of impunity prompts reckless behavior, which is reflected in the behavioral pattern;

·         Vocabulary becomes poor, which further interferes with communication with people;

·         Mental processes are inhibited. [2]

So, if you child uses unacceptable language, such behavior requires accurate correction. Avoid categorical prohibitions or punishments: it is much more important to find out the reasons why your child began to swear. Psychologists believe that the reason for using swearing is self-doubt and phobias. A child is unable to express his or her opinion, or prove his or her opinion in a different, censored way. For this reason, swear words become for children the only way to be understood by others.

Why ladies shouldn’t swear

Why ladies shouldn’t swear

For a long time, women have been striving for gender equality. As a result, now they can even swear. But is it really necessary?

Mostly, the negative attitude towards the use of obscene words by women is caused by gender stereotypes. It is believed that a main role of woman is mother and the guardian of the hearth, and she should never use any obscene words, especially if she has children. Consciously or unconsciously, children copy the behavior of their parents, and they probably will swear, if their relatives do so. So, it’s not good when a mother becomes a bad example for her children.

A swearing woman, in the eyes of those around her, looks like a ‘dysfunctional’ person, a bad character. Will she be able to succeed in a career or find a worthy life partner? It depends on many factors, not only on her lexicon, but ‘bad’ language will certainly not contribute to women’s personal happiness.

How to get yourself or people around you stop swearing?

How to get yourself or people around you stop swearing?

If you don’t have verbal filter, sooner or later it may become a problem. There is a risk that the use of swear words will develop into a bad habit, which will be difficult to get rid of.

The most important thing is to understand that the regular use of swear words refers to unhealthy behavior model. Behavioral psychology helps fighting against problem speech habits. One of its new methods is the 7Spsy technique-based behavior modification course, based on theories of I. P. Pavlova, B.F. Skinner A. A. Ukhtomsky, and others.

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Participation in the training will help you get rid of the habit of ‘automatic’ cursing. Your loved one or you will have a chance to take more seriously what you say and under what circumstances. The positive attitudes acquired during the training will help you to understand how destructive profanity is in communicating with others. This is the first step towards the understanding that our thoughts and feelings, including negative ones, can be expressed through the abundance of other words in our rich language.

Participants receive all the necessary recommendations and daily consultations from the psychologist by phone and e-mail, as well as in online chat rooms. Training is strictly confidential, so you don’t have to tell anyone about this problem.

Beautiful, pure speaking style without profanity means healthy lifestyle, calm temper and lack of bad habits. Make your speech clear, and your life will change for the better!


1.   «Netsenzurnaia leksika. Nuzhno li nakazyvat za netsenzurnuiu leksiku doma?» (https://fom.ru/Obraz-zhizni/13626)

2.   «Ob obstsennykh vyrazheniiakh russkogo iazyka», 1998 g., Iu. I. Levin.

3.   «Russkaia brannaia leksika: tsenzurnoe i netsenzurnoe» (zhurnal «Rusistika», 1994 g., № 1, 2), V. M. Mokienko.

4.   «The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature», 2007 г, S. Pinker.

5.   «O vliianii nenormativnoi leksiki na psikhofiziologicheskoe sostoianie zhivykh organizmov», 2005 g., G. Cheugin.