The Joy of Swearing


Oh, how I love to say that word. It rolls off my tongue with pure joy and satisfaction. People tell me they have never known anyone who enjoys swearing as much as I do and that they feel my pleasure when I curse. While they might usually be offended by the word, they can’t help but enjoy my foul language.

Why do I enjoy swearing so much? One reason is that I come from a long line of female swearers. My grandmother had no problem swearing, and my mom, a Lutheran minister by trade, was no different. Mom was the only mom and/or minister I knew who swore freely with pleasure and without a sense of guilt. Swearing wasn’t a vulgar act, but instead done for fun without the intent of offending anyone. During a celebration at our house, either a confirmation or graduation, Mom leaned over with a sly smile and whispered into my ear, “Go pick up the fucking newspaper and put it away, would you?” It was clear to me that her swearing was used to accentuate and also that it was just plain fun to do. I came to believe that swearing has its place when it is used judiciously.

Frequently, I swear to make a point. Throwing in an expletive, especially the word “fuck,” tends to 1) make people listen, and 2) express my strong feelings. As someone who usually follows the rules, I also swear because deep down I feel that it is something I’m not supposed to do. Swearing allows me to give convention a little kick in the butt. And society still doesn’t really expect women to swear. So maybe it’s one of my methods of challenging gender roles. Finally, I guess, at some level I think, true or not, that it makes me more fun or more real.

I’ve found that my love of swearing is hardly unique. Steven Pinker, Harvard professor and author of The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, says, “there are circumstances when swearing is deeply satisfying.” Boy, did he get that right. He refers to this kind of swearing as “cathartic swearing.” Tracy V. Wilson in the article “How Swearing Works,” reports that swearing is less acceptable for women than men in our society and that women who swear “appear to violate more societal taboos.” The content of numerous blogs is evidence that some women agree that societal taboos be damned as they too voice their affinity for swearing.

Characters in the media take pleasure in the practice too. In one episode from Sex and the City, Mr. Big doesn’t just tell Carrie that he loves her, but instead says, “Well, I fucking love you,” to make his point. He also regularly utters the invented word “absofuckinlutely” when he wants to express his enthusiastic agreement. Doesn’t that word just say it all?

Profanity, especially the word “fuck,” offends many and is only appropriate in certain contexts, I realize. While it isn’t for everyone, it is a simple pleasure for many of us who, in this small way, want to revel in the irreverent.

Kristin Eggerling is the mother of two and a freelance writer in northwestern Minnesota. She has worked at the Minnesota Senate and as a public health administrator and held a variety of positions on numerous legislative campaigns. She serves on a number of local, regional and state boards and is active in DFL politics.


10 Responses to “The Joy of Swearing”

  1. May 12th, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Mike Haubrich, FCD says:

    Well, I never! Such language.

    Great essay. I feel the same way about this.

  2. May 12th, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Gianna says:

    I swear like a sailor and get shit for it on my blog…my readers are an eclectic bunch…everything from born again Christians to radical leftists…I did a post once on swearing and how I loved it and one of my regular readers got rather uptight!!

    but boy do I tone it down for my blog…you should hear me speak and I USED to tone it down for my mom, who is NOT a swearer, but now she’s gotta deal with it too…because yeah, that’s me with the potty mouth…the real me.

  3. May 13th, 2009 at 12:38 am

    Gary says:

    my mom, a Lutheran minister by trade

    I’m guessing not Missouri Synod.

    (I googled missouri synod just to be sure they hadn’t gone all liberal on me. I clicked on and firefox crashed. I guess when they kick someone out of the church, they really mean it.)

  4. May 13th, 2009 at 5:32 am

    John says:

    People who prefer not to use this style of speech miss out on free therapy. Their loss. Sure, they have good-sounding reasons to eschew the purple syllables, but none that convince me. It’s a pleasant surprise to read of a Lutheran minister with the ability to loosen things up. I’ve never known of any clergyperson to be other than tightly wound in regard to use of free language. I’ve met some who I fear would faint if they read what you have written here. I can only wish they were made of stronger stuff.

  5. May 13th, 2009 at 6:47 am

    Gianna says:

    I once went on a river rafting trip with a Catholic priest who happened to friends of a friend of mine…he had one of the dirtiest mouths I’d ever encountered…I was young and had been raised Catholic and got quite a kick out of it…

    he did admit that he kept things in check around his parrish—otherwise he said he was human just like everyone else…

  6. May 13th, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Brownian says:

    I used to act during our local summer theatre festival, and occasionally my coworkers would organise themselves and come down and watch a performance. One coworker, a devout Mormon, always felt the need to point out that she’d love to attend if only our plays wouldn’t be so upsetting to her delicate sensibilities. I knew she liked the opera, so I suggested that it couldn’t be the sex or violence that put her off and thus must be the profanity. She agreed. Then I asked if she thought people who swore only did so because they lacked the vocabulary to express themselves without profanity. She agreed. So I went on to explain, using examples, the myriad utility of the word ‘fuck’ and its variants.

    I’ll never achieve anything closer to nirvana than that eight-minute rant on the beauty of ‘fuck’ to a no swearing, smoking, drinking, or fornicating Mormon in the cafeteria that day.

  7. May 13th, 2009 at 10:54 am

    Kristin says:

    She grew up in the Wisconsin synod which is worse (or should I say more conservative) than the Missouri Synod. And, then she was Missouri Synod for a number of years before making the switch to the ELCA. I don’t think women can vote yet in the Missouri Synod church. When she died we needed a church to hold the funeral in because her church was too small. Missouri synod wouldn’t do it. We had it at the Presbyterian Church instead.

  8. May 13th, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    CybrgnX says:

    You do not really swear. As swearing involves using gOd’s name inappropriately.
    Now the really good part…WHAT IS gOd’s FUCKING NAME?????
    god is not a name it is a job description. Jesus is NOT a gOd. AHLA is not its name it is gOd in a different language. CHRIST is a job description. Since I don’t know gOd’s name it is IMPOSSIBLE to swear!!!
    Someone may not LIKE my language but so Fucking what!!!!

  9. May 23rd, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    William Carlton says:

    Here’s a great lecture from Professor Pinker for Google Talks which covers a lot of what he has to say about swearing as a window into thought:

    My favorite bit is when he talks about “Fuck Patois”, wonderfully illustrated by the story about a soldier who says, “I come home to my house after three fucking years in the fucking war, and what do I fucking-well find? My wife in bed, engaging in illicit sexual relations with a male!”

  10. May 25th, 2009 at 8:44 am

    Mike Haubrich says:

    (Fixed per your request, William.)

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