#@*! gummit – pain!
I never heard my mother utter a swear word. One Christmas we were driving to my grandmother’s house and our car broke down – in a blinding snowstorm; my father was outside with the car hood up, head hidden from view – trying to fix the problem – and I heard him utter the D_ _ _ it word. That was the only time I ever heard my father utter a curse word.
. . . But swear words aren’t quite as simple as they seem. They’re paradoxical — saying them is taboo in nearly every culture, but instead of avoiding them as with other taboos, people use them. Most associate swearing with being angry or frustrated, but people swear for a number of reasons and in a variety of situations. Swearing also serves multiple purposes in social interactions. Not only that, your brain treats swear words differently than it treats other words.
Most researchers agree that swearing came from early forms of word magic. Studies of modern, non-literate cultures suggest that swearwords came from the belief that spoken words have power. Some cultures, especially ones that have not developed a written language, believe that spoken words can curse or bless people or can otherwise affect the world. This leads to the idea that some words are either very good or very bad.
. . . A lot of people think of swearing as an instinctive response to something painful and unexpected (like hitting your head on an open cabinet door) or something frustrating and upsetting (like being stuck in traffic on the way to a job interview). This is one of the most common uses for swearing, and many researchers believe that it helps relieve stress and blow off steam, like crying does for small children.
. . . Swearing and the Brain
Your brain is a very complex organ, but there are only a few things you need to know about it to understand how it approaches swear words differently from other language:
- In most people, the left hemisphere is in charge of language. The right hemisphere creates the emotional content of language.
- Language processing is a “higher” brain function and takes place in the cerebral cortex.
- Emotion and instinct are “lower” brain functions and take place deep inside the brain.
[excerpt from article “How Swearing Works” by Tracy V. Wilson in “How Stuff Works]