Sam starts to swear: “That’s bulls**t”

When social media quizzes ask for “unexpected facts about you” or “10 things about me that would surprise my Facebook friends” one fact I’m often tempted to supply is that I don’t swear.

I mean, on a very rare occasion it does happen that I swear, when something really bad happens, yes. Then I can and do swear.

For example, on a certain evening in November 2016 things looked they weren’t going very well for the Democrat’s candidate for President. I thought it was just a blip. I needed to get some rest. So I said to Jeff, “Just wake me when Hilary’s won.” He didn’t wake me. My alarm went off in the morning at the usual time. I woke up and looked at my phone and the news of Trump’s election greeted me. I swore then.

That gives you some idea. Things need to be “Trump election bad” before I swear.

Why don’t I swear? There’s some background here, of course. I was taught by nuns, educated in Catholic school. My father didn’t think swearing was ladylike. I’m from England. (An aside: A younger me was once cut off from drinking in a pub in my home town in Northern England for swearing. The bartender said, “What did you say, young lady?” I genuinely thought he didn’t hear me so I repeated it loudly. “It’s f**king cold in here.” Also, it was.)

And I know people who share a lot of these traits and who swear up a storm so it’s not a complete explanation. But it’s a start.

There was a brief swear-y time of life. I also had an 80’s punk haircut and tried to scowl. It didn’t take though. I’m an inveterate smiler and I don’t swear.



I even have a philosopher’s explanation about why. One day the CBC radio show DNTO (Definitely Not The Opera) called the philosophy department looking for someone willing to go on air to talk about what, if anything, makes swearing wrong. I couldn’t think of answer and so passed but I kept thinking and came up with an answer.

My answer is connected to the problem tenants in my house at that time. We had just bought a side-by-side duplex with plans to take over the whole thing but it had tenants in one half. They were a group of young women who all worked for the phone company and who liked to have parties on the weekend. I didn’t mind them but I did mind their boyfriends. In particular what I minded was the drinking on our front lawn that involved yelling and swearing.

So what makes swearing wrong? It signals to people that you’ve crossed a line. You’re outside the norms of polite discourse. What’s next? Threats? Actual violence?

If you have a background where you associate swearing with alcohol and loosened attachments to rules and norms, swearing might make you flinch.

It signals a willingness to break rules of polite interaction.

I’m still thinking about this. If you’re a male professor reading this and you think swearing in the classroom makes you seem young and hip and rule break-y keep in mind that not all of your students hear it the same way.

So that’s my history and a brief bit of ethics.



Next up: Why does a fitness blog care?

This story:  Could swearing make you stronger at the gym? Maybe.

See also Swear More To Boost Muscle Power In The Gym, Study Suggests.

And  Swearing makes you stronger so stop f***ing around and start lifting.

You get the idea. Dozens of blog readers and Facebook page followers and friends sent it to me.

Here’s the study:

Psychologists at Keele University conducted a series of experiments, including putting two groups of participants on exercise bikes. One group cycled for 30 seconds while yelling out all kinds of profanities while the others were only allowed to let out neutral words.

And they found that the swearers’ peak power rose by 24 watts on average.

The next task they got everyone to perform was a single hand-grip test.

Again, those who muttered obscenities throughout upped their strength by the equivalent of 2.1kg.

‘In the short period of time we looked at there are benefits from swearing,’ said Richard Stephens – one of the psychologists from Keele.

Swearing has also been found to lessen pain.

I’ve looked for detail of the study. Most of the stories tell us that the participants are volunteers and they are at a university. They are said to be 21 years old.  I assumed they were male. And I worried about that as a weakness of the study.

But no, there were roughly equal number of men and women in these studies.  And you got to choose your favourite swear word. Nice!


Oh and then there’s the “smart people swear more” stories that friends love to share.  See Intelligent People Use More Swear Words, According To Study.  And stories about women swearing more than men, Women use the F-word more than men, according to new survey.

So I’ve been curious about whether I can get over my aversion to swearing. My teenagers occasionally try and they love to laugh at my efforts.

Recently, spending time with Sarah in Toronto, I’ve noticed that she often says, of traffic, of other peoples’ parking, of contractors who don’t follow through, “that’s bulls**t.” It turns out that’s one I can manage. The other day I was describing the traffic on a stretch of road on a bike rally training route where cars were whizzing by too fast, too close and I said it was “bullsh**t.” Since then Sarah’s been prompting me. “What would you say about the lack of vegetarian food in this restaurant?” Turns out that there are many of these opportunities.

Also, Cate and I agree: Gaining 8 lbs over the winter while working out lots and eating the same as usual. That’s bulls**t!

So, progress?

I’m pretty sure it won’t help my cycling or my lifting but maybe I should try it the next time I go in for fitness testing on the bike.


How about you? Do you swear? Do you swear when you’re racing or lifting or trying to do physically hard things? Does it help?





8 thoughts on “Sam starts to swear: “That’s bulls**t”

  1. I swear in two languages. I also like finding new cusses or expressions that get at the heart of my feelings.
    When I was a kid swearing was a class marker. Truckers swore a lot, middle class people didn’t.

    In the military swearing meant things were either getting serious (the shit just got real) or very fun (TGIFF: Thank God It’s Fuckingwell Friday!)

    Swearing can signal:
    I’m having a great time (fucking-eh!)
    I’m having a really bad go (this fucking sucks)
    I just hurt myself (too many to list)
    Etc. etc.

    I’m a prolific cussed but I’m also incredibly cute &c charming (and modest) so I usually get away with it.

    Parce-que mes mecs sont osties de pas de classe!

  2. I do swear a lot. My dad never filtered his language around me as a child, so it just stuck. I wish I didn’t swear as much and make a conscious effort to not do so at work (although I never swear in the classroom — I teach college English). It’s just a knee jerk reaction for me: stub my toe, swear; experience a technological issue, swear; get a cheeky email from a student, swear (not in the response, but as a verbal reaction). I try to curb swearing because I know in society, it can lead to me being perceived as lower class, uneducated, or suffering from anger issues (of course, that last one is true). It’s sort of like my volatile anger — it embarrasses me, but I learned it from home at a very early age.

  3. I used to swear more than I do now, but bullsh*t is still a super handy word, signalling my unequivocal opinion that someone else is Just Plain Wrong ;-);

  4. I don’t generally swear, which is mostly a religious thing and also just a function of a non-swearing upbringing. I do find the urge rising more when I’m in pain or very angry, but not when I’m physically exerting myself. Your note about swearing being a violation of social code is very interesting to me. I think that when I feel like swearing, I’m often very close to the line of wishing violence on someone. So perhaps that’s part of why I’m uncomfortable with it in other people.

  5. I swear like a sailor and so does a large portion of most of my social groups, so it doesn’t phase me at all. For us, swearing is almost a form of punctuation – it just means we’re feeling really strongly about whatever it is we’re talking about, whether we’re expressing happiness, enthusiasm, surprise, disappointment or anger. It most definitely is not a precursor to violence. YMMV, usual disclaimers apply etc.

    Also, AFAIK, none of us swear at work, or in other places where we know if would not go over well. I think the fact that we swear around each other is a sign of how comfortable we are with each other.

  6. Hmm. I try to refrain on the job which works 98% of the time.
    My partner hates it when I am furious at something and swear. It has nothing with him wanting a proper lady. But more him, …he rarely swears which is partially his upbringing and also his gentle controlled nature..which can be quite scathing and cold. He’s not by nature violent which probably swearing hints at violence to him.

    So hence, when he hears me..

    My mother has a volatile temper which she did swear furiously in Chinese..good thing we didn’t understand it fully. 😉 We were told to shut up when we tried to imitate her.

  7. I rarely swear, largely because that’s the way I was raised. I am particularly uncomfortable with the English curse words that can be perceived as anti-feminist. My favourite swimming buddy, on the other hand, curses up a storm when she tries to get into very cold water. She says it helps. It has become a bit of a game between us. On really cold swims (under about 3-4 Celsius) we go in one at a time, for safety. I usually go in first. If I don’t say a word, she has no idea just how nasty cold the water is, and I get to giggle when she goes in and swears for both of us.

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