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.
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!
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?