Fluent use of profanity can be a sign of an articulate nature and a deep intelligence, say researchers from two separate studies. So, the next time you find yourself unleashing a string of f-bombs next to a set of raised eyebrows, take comfort in knowing mom did not (necessarily) create a monster.
The Language Sciences Journal set out with a mission — to test a theory called “poverty of vocabulary,” which held that those who swear do so through an inability to grasp sophisticated words. The results will thrill those of us who drop f-bombs at every opportunity. As it turns out, people who swear actually have a greater vocabulary than those who keep things clean.
This simple study involved subjects tossing out as many random swear words as possible in one minute. Those who excelled at this task were also able to do so with groups of animals, plants, and so on. The researchers concluded that those who swore the most profusely also articulated themselves well in a number of other areas.
Now, these results may simply be correlative, but we want to believe. According to the study’s lead researchers (Kristin and Timothy Jay), we can trash all previous assumptions that potty-mouthed folk lack restraint and education — it simply isn’t the case:
Unfortunately, when it comes to taboo language, it is a common assumption that people who swear frequently are lazy, do not have an adequate vocabulary, lack education, or simply cannot control themselves. The overall finding of this set of studies, that taboo fluency is positively correlated with other measures of verbal fluency, undermines the [normal] view of swearing.
This new data is also bolstered by a recent study from author Jeff Wilser, who believed that swear words tap into a deeper part of the brain. Together with Dr. Richard Stephens, the two men studied women enduring childbirth (with f-bombs a plenty) and realized how swearing must serve a purpose: “We only do things that give us rewards or benefits; that’s just the way the world is.” The curse words helped these women dig deeper and accomplish their biological imperative by using f-bombs to trigger an adrenaline rush and push those babies into the world.
Stephens also tested this theory through other pain-related studies, including some “poor bastards” who held their hands in buckets of ice water. The results were the same, and here stands Stephens’ ultimate conclusion:
There’s indirect evidence that swearing isn’t associated with the cortex — where most language is – but instead taps into the deeper parts of the brain structure.
Then sh*t got real when Stephens conducted a “swearing fluency” test (similar to the one discussed above) graded by points. The point-gathering system was a highly scientific process where only the hardiest prevailed:
“You can say ‘f*ck’ or ‘f*ck-face’ or ‘f*cking,’ but that’s just a variation of ‘f*ck,’” says Stephens in his pleasant English accent — this was easily the highlight of my research. “So ‘f*ck-face’ gets one point, but you can’t look around the room and say ‘f*ck-table.'”
This entire second study was a fascinating one. Wilser and Stephens gathered data to support their mutual love of f-bombs, and they make it clear that swearing not only proves greater intelligence but can also be “a morale booster” in the work place. The lesson here? Don’t be afraid to curse. It may not impress everyone, but the habit may reveal greater intelligence, abilities, and survival skills than anyone would have ever imagined.