This is why we swear so much

You’re playing your favourite shooter and peek around a corner determined to take your revenge, only to be sniped by that same [redacted] camper in the same [redacted] spot.

There’s no one else who can hear or see your frustration, yet you just can’t but help let out a good, old-fashioned swear word.

Benjamin Bergen, a cognitive scientist at the University of California revealed in an interview with Gizmodo just how and why we choose to swear.

“We use language to convey facts, but we also use it to convey emotional information. That drew me to the words that have the most emotional content and drive the strongest emotional reactions: profanity.”

English profane words tend to be words that use closed syllables, that is, syllables that have consonants at the end. That is not true across the world of languages.

It’s part of being a fluent English speaker. Your favorite four-letter words are for the most part examples of this: consonants at the beginning—like fu, bu, or cu—and consonants at the end, like ck, ch, or nt. It’s why “piss” sounds more profane than “pee.”

It also shows up when we’re trying to get around saying a profane word. If you don’t want to say fuck, you might say frick. If you don’t want to say damn, you might say darn. It’s all the same consonant-heavy pattern.


Bergen goes on to explain that there are typically four groupings of swear words – religious concept, sexual activities, bodily functions and organs, and derogatory language for social groups..

“Profanity is most likely to derive from things that tend to be taboo across societies. We tend to posture particular domains of human activity into particular places and social contexts.”

“Bathroom activities happen in bathrooms, for example. So it’s not surprising that such words become the pinnacle of taboo-ness.”

So why does it feel so good?

“Clinical psychologists used to tell you to punch a pillow or a couch when angry. There have been a dozen studies that show this just doesn’t work.”

“Engaging in active physical aggression, even directed away from the original target, increases aggression towards that person.”

“But maybe profanity works differently and is actually useful for decreasing aggression. Or maybe verbal aggression works just like physical aggression. We just don’t know.”

How often do you swear? Let us know in the comments below and in our forums.

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This is why we swear so much

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