Throughout our schooling, we are taught to never cuss. We are taught to read, write, structure our sentences and speak in public settings, but we are never told when it is a good time to swear. Long seen as taboo and lazy, cussing is taking on a totally different connotation these days, which is why we can all use a little more cussing in our own lives, just as long as we are practicing safe swearing.
A recent study done by psychologists Kristin Joy of Marist College and Timothy Jay of Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, concluded that cussing is not caused by a limited vocabulary, but may be the exact opposite. Joy and Jay see cursing as “an essential element in speech comprehension and production processes” in their study and go on to infer that the combining of cuss words to make new insults actually shows a higher brain capacity and a more flexible understanding of the English language.
In their essence, cuss words are powerful, which is why we use them. Because of the negative connotations surrounding swear words by society, using them in a public setting shows that you do not care much for the status quo. There is nothing wrong with giving people more power by demoting some words. Someone who cusses excessively isn’t doing anything illegal to make them feel more powerful or rebellious, but rather just using their own freedom to defy what others told them wasn’t acceptable.
Of course, it is important to define what words can reasonably seen as offensive to the masses. It should go without saying that a more colorful substitute word for fecal matter or fornicating is far different from racist, sexist and homophobic slurs. At the same time, it is also puzzling why some words were deemed as so unsavory that they should not be used in everyday conversation. For example, why can we use “sex” and “procreate” all the time but not the dreaded “F-word”? Why is there such a stark divide between North Americans and Europeans on the “c-word,” and why can that word not be used but it is somewhat acceptable to refer to an undesirable person as male genitalia? These are questions we need to ask ourselves before we scoff at someone for cussing in public.
More so than power, swearing can be a release or even a sort of coping mechanism. There is a reason that the first words that come to mind when we are in intense pain or shock are usually curse words. They provide a kind of emotion in one word that we cannot describe in entire sentences. So often in school or by our parents, we are taught that showing emotion is good and that we should open ourselves up and self-disclose. Yet, even though cussing may be a perfect way to channel our deepest emotions and reveal a comfort around someone, we are still taught that it is wrong.
In 2019, we are slowly seeing other traditional taboos become socially acceptable whether it be tattoos, piercings, eccentric hairstyles or what used to be seen as “scantily clad” fashion trends. We could also be the generation that makes cussing the next taboo turn into a societal norm. We have been exposed to it, unlike generations past, through subscription television and satellite radio, and the lax censoring around social media sites and YouTube. We could see, in as quickly as a few years time, college courses surrounding the topic of cussing. There are already courses on how to properly cope with stress and how to prepare for job interviews, why shouldn’t there be a course offered to teach students when and how to cuss with class? Or even linguistic courses unpacking some of the social, economic and generational elements of swear words?
So why were we all taught not to cuss? Because at some point, society arranged a list of words that just weren’t cool to use in public settings. Then our parents told us not to. That’s not to say that you should replace your entire vocabulary with curse words. On the contrary, where and when you cuss should be up to you to discern. It is high time we decide for ourselves what is alright to say and not say, whether older generations scoff at us or not.