The Benefits of Cursing.

The Cleveland Clinic’s healthessentials article published October 31, 2022 (no author given) discusses studies that “have linked profanity to health benefits — like pain relief — and traits — like honesty”; it starts with the 2015 study by Kristin L. Jay and Timothy B. Jay which we discussed here, concluding “there isn’t enough evidence to suggest a cause-and-effect relationship between profanity and brain power,” and continues as follows:

While much of the literature on the benefits of cursing is theoretical, some ideas have been put to the test. Scientists have found correlations between cursing and:

Honesty. Profanity has been positively correlated with honesty and integrity across three different 2017 studies.
Creativity. Unsurprisingly, researchers also used tests like the COWAT to measure creativity. Equally unsurprising: They found the same positive correlation between swearing and creativity that they found between swearing and intelligence. Doctors have also observed that people who experience aphasia after a stroke oftentimes retain their ability to curse like sailors. There are a lot of reasons that might happen. One theory is that cursing and other “automatic language” lives in the right side of your brain. For better or worse, we commonly regard the right side of the brain as the “creative side,” therefore, cursing is a sign of creativity.

It’s fun to talk about whether or not bad language = good people at a party, but the science to support those ideas is ultimately quite thin.

Instead, try discussing the findings around the impact of cursing on pain tolerance. They’re much stronger, and — depending on your luck— might come in handy someday.

One of the most common ways to measure pain perception and tolerance is a cold-pressor pain threshold (CPT). Basically, study participants put their hands in ice-cold water, and keep them there for as long as they can.

In 2009, a group of study participants submitted to a CPT. Half of the participants repeated a curse word, while the other half repeated a neutral word. That study found that the potty-mouthed participants kept their hands in the water longer — and perceived the test as less painful overall.

Unfortunately, the magic of swearing is born of moderation. A 2011 study showed that the more often you curse, the lower the impact it has on your pain tolerance and endurance. So, if you’re planning on sticking your hand in ice water for fun anytime soon, maybe watch your tongue.

At this point, you may find yourself wondering: Is this effect universal? After all, different cultures have different attitudes toward swearing. A 2017 study comparing the impact of cursing on pain tolerance in people of English and Japanese descent demonstrated that, when it comes to bad language, we’re more alike than we are different. While we may not use the same words — or utter them with the same frequency — the impact on pain is the same. […]

Intelligence is complicated, and there’s no perfect way to measure it. Dr. Tworek thinks that everyone, including doctors, should be focused on getting to know people. Instead of policing your language — or anybody else’s — try not to make assumptions about intelligence or character on the basis of this one data point.

There’s more at the link; we discussed the pain tolerance study back in 2009. Thanks, Bonnie!


  1. Fuckin’ A!

    (I feel better already)

  2. David Eddyshaw says

    “there isn’t enough evidence to suggest a cause-and-effect relationship between profanity and brain power”

    Bugger that!

  3. A question to the eastern Anglophones. In the U.S. there’s a great many absurdly mild cursewords, known to any comedian, such as would be used by the mythical church-going maiden aunt around Sunday school children, from “Gosh” and “Golly”, to the intense “Golly Willickers”, to the blasphemous “Aitch Ee Double Toothpicks”. These are all American, to the best of my knowledge. What do the timid and the pious of the British Isles utter when their spirit is excited?

  4. @Y: Fiddlesticks! What in Sam Hill tarnation are you talking about? The blasphemous “Aitch Ee Double Toothpicks” would be the blasphemous “H-E double hockey sticks” to me, dadgummit!

  5. To judge by My Fair Lady, the British say “bloomin'” a lot.

  6. Y- a true godly woman would not say gee willikers or Jiminy Cricket or jeepers creepers or any J-C phrase, or even short forms like gee or sheesh, which are intended to cause the thought of the Name of Christ to form in minds of the speaker and hearer. She would also abjure for goodness’ sake, goodness gracious, for the love of Mike, and the like. See, e.g.,

    As for the British Isles: Even today the English (I don’t know about the other varieties of British or the Irish) say “bloody”and “bleeding” a fair amount, and you might still hear bally and blinking although perhaps not ruddy and bloomin’. Also dashed and blasted and even blessed for damned. Of course they no longer say zounds (God’s wounds) and struth (God’s truth) and Egad (oh, God). And more generally, the English of all social classes seem to have moved further along than Americans in abandoning blasphemy for obscenity when they curse.

  7. In my experience, British minced profanity includes sugar, flip, Gordon Bennett – and, yes, blooming (pronounced blimmin.) Bloody, while frequently used, doesn’t really count as minced.

    Come to think of it, you still hear “crikey” pretty regularly too.

  8. David Eddyshaw says

    “Strewth” is alive and well in the UK, and I believe that Australians have been known to say it from time to time as well.

  9. Ireland has feck, fecking, and fecker. But motherfecker would be too close to the bone.

    Blooming blinking and ruddy originate as minced firms of bloody, but I suspect some people now use them affectedly who would not consider bloody to be taboo.

  10. My grandmother (b. 1901, New Jersey) occasionally said “fudge” when particularly annoyed.

  11. Jen in Edinburgh says

    For crying out loud, for pete’s sake, blimmin, shoot, sugar…

    Bloody isn’t minced, but I also don’t generally avoid it.

  12. “Blast!” is the strongest thing I’ve ever heard my mother say.

  13. My mother would say, “Oh, foot!” She didn’t know French.

  14. Long ago in school we read through one of those drawing-room comedies — The Rivals or The School for Scandal — and for weeks afterward we went around saying “Oons!” instead of our usual bad words.

  15. David Marjanović says

    To judge by My Fair Lady, the British say “bloomin’” a lot.

    The bloomin’ arse in there was a culture shock in terms of priorities.

  16. I don’t see any cursing here, only swearing. Cursing requires an object, whether that be a person or something abstract such as one’s fate.

  17. From Littlewood’s Miscellany: I have had occasion to read aloud the phrase ‘Where E‘ is any dashed (i.e. derived) set:’ it is necessary to place the stress with care.
    Anyone cares to explain what stress has to do with it?

  18. Maybe he meant that the innocent pronunciation is da-shed.

  19. To me, “ANY dashed” invites a reading with “dashed” as an intensifier (“I despise ANY dashed set of scoundrels, not just the current government” or similar, while “any DASHED set” might be read in the technical away above.

  20. January First-of-May says

    Maybe he meant that the innocent pronunciation is da-shed.

    That’s how I would do it, but I’m not sure if that’s actually permissible in L1 English, and of course that’s not about stress. I suspect the correct explanation is similar to what anhweol said.

  21. to my ear, either version is cromulent, but anhweol’s word-level stress is the more plausible (and what i’d produce, more or less).

  22. Kate Bunting says

    I don’t think anyone has mentioned the British ‘heck’. ‘Gosh’ and ‘golly’ are familiar here, if rather old-fashioned – as one who dislikes swearing, I may sometimes use ‘gosh’ myself. I don’t instinctively swear when hurt, but my favourite expletive when annoyed with myself is ‘Rats!’

    Curious that ‘strewth’ has long outlasted the other minced oaths of that type.

  23. In my neck of the woods (tough north east England) lots of Christ, God, fuck, shit, shite, arsehole, swine, sugar, bastard, bitch, cow, dickhead, sod, crap and bloody. Bullshit occasionally, blooming, gosh and similarly genteel expletives, never. We also use one or two fingers to reinforce our disapproval. I suspect we’re near the top of the swearing table.

  24. That’s my kind of place!

  25. You’d ******* love it, languagehat. In fact, adjectival and adverbial swear words are used by some speakers so frequently (ie qualifying just about every noun or verb) that they lose a lot of their original intent: to intimidate.

    Edit: I omitted bugger(ed)/y and probably one or two others. ****

  26. David Eddyshaw says

    Is not the intent usually creating solidarity rather than intimidation? It’s what Anglophones do because they can’t tutoyer.

  27. Although creating solidarity could be one motive, I’d say the intent is more often to intimidate since not everyone indicates solidarity with more expletives. Solidarity is more likely to be established through accent and dialect, although granted swearing could form part of the normal speech pattern of a particular community. Tutoyering just wouldn’t work in this region as it might in for example Yorkshire, tha knaas.

  28. Surprisingly comprehensible!

  29. @Kate Bunting: Heck is so common and so universal that has semiotics of its own, rather than just existing as a mincing of hell.

  30. Eliza, how do the godly few express themselves in that vale of sin, when they drop a bottle on their foot?

  31. David Eddyshaw says

    “It is the will of God.”

  32. Or, in the immortal words of Norman Lear, “Even this I get to experience.”

  33. Y – and this is purely speculation – the godly few would thank their maker for giving them the opportunity for their personal growth through suffering.

  34. David Marjanović says

    We also use one or two fingers to reinforce our disapproval.

    Oh, so the link to actually swearing an oath is preserved!

    It’s what Anglophones do because they can’t tutoyer.

    But you can be on a first-name basis…

    Or, in the immortal words of Norman Lear, “Even this I get to experience.”

    Similar to the immortal words of Francis Joseph the First and Last: “Well, I’m not spared anything.”

    (mir bleibt auch nichts erspart, except always quoted in dialect)

  35. David Eddyshaw says

    But you can be on a first-name basis

    Marjanović, old chap, surely you can’t be serious? My dear fellow! We leave that sort of thing to foreigners, and, I suppose, to servants (amongst themselves, no doubt, though naturally one has no way of confirming this.)

    We also use one or two fingers to reinforce our disapproval

    One finger is a Horrid Americanism.

  36. jack morava says

    May I put in a word of praise for the attention to sociolinguistic detail in Reservation Dogs? AFAIU the show’s writers have created their own proper slang for their imagined Oklahoma Native American kids, distinguished by strict Jacobsonian/LeviStraussian oppositions from other youth argots, eg you don’t call somebody a m*****f****r but rather a sh**t**se…


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