Why swear­ing feels so bleep­ing good

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - EDITORIAL - BY ROSIE DI­MANNO Rosie Di­Manno is a na­tional af­fairs writer for Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices

What the %*$@#&!?

Out of all the rea­sons Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has to fire any of his White House bootlick­ers — in­com­pe­tence and crazi­ness come most im­me­di­ately to mind — why was Anthony Scara­mucci bounced af­ter a mere 10 days on the com­mu­ni­ca­tions direc­tor job for the rel­a­tively ve­nal sin of phone-bomb­ing pro­fan­i­ties?

This is, af­ter all, the pres­i­dent who no­to­ri­ously cack­led about grab­bing fe­male “p----.”

See what I did there? Em­ploy­ing dashes — some pre­fer as­ter­isks — be­cause a fam­ily news­pa­per gen­er­ally does not al­low vul­gar­ity or pro­foundly hurt­ful slurs in print.

I’ve lis­tened to parts of Scara­mucci’s pun­gent tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion with Ryan Lizza, reporter for the New Yorker, aris­ing from his an­noy­ance over pub­lished in­for­ma­tion about a “se­cret” din­ner be­tween Trump and Fox News. The Mooch cer­tainly did un­leash a vol­ley of Fgrenades, in­sert­ing the com­mon An­glo Saxon ex­ple­tive all over the place.

Scara­mucci may be a lounge lizard but, for him, f--- is clearly a ver­bal tic. He might as well have been say­ing wa­ter­melon-wa­ter­melon-wa­ter­melon.

One Amer­i­can colum­nist even sit­u­ated Scara­mucci’s ob­scen­ity yips within the con­text of his Ital­ian eth­nic­ity, a kind of Tony So­prano car­i­ca­ture. It didn’t mean any­thing, just empty sound with or with­out fury. That’s a stereo­type but not nec­es­sar­ily wrong, though I don’t think Ital­ians are more foul-mouthed than any­body else. The words do flow richly off the tongue, how­ever, and we bring to the con­ver­sa­tion an ar­ray of semaphor­ing ges­tures to go with.

The thing is, ev­ery­body swears — 0.3 per cent to 0.7 per cent of the time on av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to re­search — even if mod­er­ately and eu­phemisti­cally, re­plac­ing f--- with, say, fudge or fid­dle­sticks. But the mean­ing re­mains clear. It’s a lit­tle lex­i­con game the prim and pedan­tic play. Yet full-frontal swear­ing is still con­sid­ered ta­boo in many places, in many cir­cum­stances, where words meet ears (or eyes) even as lan­guage evolves cul­tur­ally.

In in­creas­ingly sec­u­lar so­ci­eties, blas­phe­mous im­pre­ca­tions such as “god­damn” and “Je­sus Christ” have lost their force and thus their no-no heft.

Though oc­ca­sion­ally read­ers still take me to task for it, com­plain­ing that they have to keep the paper away from their young chil­dren to shield their eyes from ob­jec­tion­able words and phrases. Oh great, sez I, now we’re sup­posed to write to the level of an im­pres­sion­able 10-year-old. Have th­ese par­ents lis­tened to the mu­sic mak­ing mush out their kids’ brains?

(As an aside on that sub­ject, I was ap­palled — won’t say of­fended be­cause there’s en­tirely too much of that go­ing on — by the Lil’ Kim track blast­ing in the Blue Jays club­house last week. But it’s their space.)

And the sex­ual ref­er­ences, of course, the down and dirty, which flow so eas­ily off the tongue, of­ten for short­hand em­pha­sis.

Why do we talk this way? It eff­ing feels good, mostly. It’s cathar­tic. It’s kind of bond­ing. It can lit­er­ally make what hurts less painful — like swear­ing a blue streak when you’ve slammed the car door on your hand.

It’s suc­cinct. It’s vent­ing, lets off emo­tional and phys­i­o­log­i­cal steam. In mo­ments of acute anger, it’s cer­tainly prefer­able as a sub­sti­tute to phys­i­cal vi­o­lence.

And just as of­ten, there’s no con­scious un­der­cur­rent, no cog­ni­tive think­ing it out be­fore erupt­ing — any­more than you can con­trol a sneeze. F--- off as an achoo.

It’s like us­ing the horn on your car — a brief toot-toot warn­ing, a cel­e­bra­tory honk or an in­fu­ri­ated blare.

Sci­en­tific stud­ies have shown that tee­ing off with a spray of vul­gar­i­ties has a cor­re­spond­ing phys­i­cal ef­fect — pupils di­late, pores open, heart rate in­creases. But your blood pres­sure will prob­a­bly spike if all those ex­clam­a­tory words are kept in­side.

Con­trary to what was once com­mon be­lief, peo­ple who cuss lots are not less ed­u­cated or from a lower so­cioe­co­nomic class. But the well-ed­u­cated, with larger vo­cab­u­lar­ies, can gen­er­ate more cre­ative blue mi­as­mas.

Fur­ther — oy, so many sci­en­tific pa­pers on the topic — foul-mouthed folks are ac­tu­ally viewed as more trust­wor­thy than those who wouldn’t say s--- if they had a mouth­ful. But rather a dick on the phone than a schmuck in the White House, no dashes re­quired.

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