The Power of Words: Why You Shouldn't Swear

Sep 12, 2019

According to surveys conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation in 2017, about 60% of respondents said they ‘occasionally’ use profanity. As for children and young people, the situation is equally depressing: more than half of high school students said that they swear freely in front of their peers. [1] We all know that swearing is uncivilized and considered bad form. Nevertheless, the use of profanity doesn’t really bother anyone nowadays – after all, this is such an ordinary thing in our life! Indeed, what’s so bad about swearing? Let’s try to understand how profanity affects people, both physically and emotionally. 



Swearing: the meaning

Swearing refers to words or phrases, mainly intended to affront interlocutors or to express strong opinion about your actions or actions of other people. Profanity is offensive to public morals, but still seems to be common everywhere.

Yu Levin, Soviet linguist and literary critic, identified the following typical functions of swearing:

  • abusive, intended to express aggression to an interlocutor
  • cathartic, intended to relieve stress
  • automatic, intended to fill gaps in the conversation
  • expressive, intended to make the speaking style more emotional. [2]

History of profanity

It is difficult for scientists to trace the occurrence of swearing. However, it is reliably known that swear words were used in Russia in the 12th and13th centuries, since confirmations of this has been found in ancient chronicles and annals. According to historians, in ancient times obscene words had rather a jocular function, rather than the ‘aggressive’ function they have now. [3]

Swear words acquired the status of ‘words unacceptable for use in public’ in the 18th century. After this the problem of profanity began to be seriously discussed. It started to be a kind of marker, for if a person expressed his or her thoughts in a ‘bad’ way, it meant the life lived was of dubious virtue. Until the middle of the 19th century usage of ‘bad’ words was a good reason for punishment in the form of public whipping.

Despite all the prohibitions, in the 20th century profanity became an integral part of the Russian language. Swear words started to be used by both poets and laborers. Thus, profanity has ceased to be a sign of only the lower tier of society.


As in ancient times, the authorities are currently trying to fight against profanity. For example, swearing in public places can be regarded as petty hooliganism, which may entail a fine or administrative punishment. However, it only applies to cases where swearing is used for the purpose of insulting an interlocutor.

Why profane language is bad for you: true stories

“I’ve been swearing probably since I was a teenager. It just became a habit. Now I have no filter on my mouth. It doesn’t matter who I talk with – ‘bad’ words slip out from time to time.

Frankly, I’ve never had problems with that. But when I got a ‘good’ job, I saw that my colleagues were talking politely to each other, and this was normal for them. I realized that I didn’t fit in at work. I try to control my tongue, but it doesn’t always work. I think the problem is that I’m no longer able to express any idea, even a simple one, without cursing”.

– Ekaterina, 25

One of the negative consequences of overusing ‘bad’ language is the inability to communicate with people in a normal way. This may turn into a huge problem, because in some situations such communication is considered unacceptable. That’s why self-control is an important skill.

“My husband always curses at me. He can easily tell me to fuck off without even apologizing afterwards. I always argue with him, I ask him not to swear at home. But it seems he doesn’t really care about my feelings. He says he has a ‘stressful’ job. He swears there all the time, and automatically continues using such words at home.

This frustrates me so badly. I never swear and I consider swear words offensive”.

– Elena, 32

On the surface, it seems that swearing is harmless to humans. But if overused this can become a bad habit. Getting rid of it, according to psychologists, is just as difficult as fighting, for example, smoking and alcoholism. [2]


The first step in fighting profanity is to find out the cause of the undesirable behavior pattern. When overusing obscene words, a person often tries to hide his or her own vulnerability, self-doubt, fears, or other problems.

What scientists say about the power of swearing

There have been some cases in medical practice, when people paralyzed after a stroke were unable to say a single word yet they could swear easily! For this reason, experts suggest that swearing has a different psychophysiological origin than ‘ordinary’ words.

R. Stevens, a senior professor of psychology at Keele University in the UK, has a hypothesis that many doctors have agreed upon. He states that swear words have pain or stress-relieving effects. A swear word, pronounced in the heat of the moment, causes the release of a dose of adrenaline.

Stevens conducted an interesting experiment. Undergraduate volunteers were asked to submerge one of their hands in a tub of ice water for as long as possible while repeating swear words. After this experiment, he found that volunteers tolerated pain better when swearing.

He says that swearing “does increase heart rate: It seems to cause the fight-or-flight response”. [4]

However, one should not conclude that swear words save the world and relieve humanity from stress and pain! In 2011, Stevens continued his research and found that the ‘veteran cussers’, those who used swear words at least 60 times a day, no longer felt any ‘analgesic effect’. Thus, the emotional response to swear words in the brain cells is weakened by their frequent usage. [4]


Although swear words arguably help a person cope with pain and stress, they affect the people around in a negative way. Researchers from the University of Arizona conducted an experiment that proved that swearing repels others.  During the experiment, women diagnosed with breast cancer or rheumatoid arthritis wore recorders, and experts noted the frequency of the use of profanity with family and friends. As a result, it was concluded that women who cursed received less support from their loved ones. [4]

Does the use of bad language affect human health?

In evidence-based medicine, there is no evidence that swearing affects human health in a negative way. Despite this, there are many different theories and hypotheses.

Soviet biologist I. Belyavsky showed with mathematical accuracy that both the person and the words spoken have an energetic charge. Thus, he states that profanity is a negative factor that destroys the human from within. Based on his research, Belyavsky suggested that people who used swear words daily, very quickly developed age-related changes at the cellular level, and, following it, various diseases. According to the scientist, this is the main reason why people should stop using swear words. [5]

Dr. E. Odintsova believes in turn that swearing can cause genetic mutations. In this regard, an experiment was conducted where scientists were invited to curse at plants. After the seeds of arabidopsis were subjected to obscene verbal exposure, they were planted into the ground. As a result, most of them did not sprout, and a minority of surviving plants had genetic deformities. [5]


Doctors are very skeptical of all statements about mutations and ‘energetically charged’ words, but we cannot deny the effect of positive and negative emotions on human health. If a person swears, because he or she always feels stressed, then sooner or later, this will have a consequence at the physical level. So, it is not the swear words themselves, which are to blame, but the person’s psycho-emotional state. His or her personality problems, which become the reason for the constant use of obscene language, can really negatively affect human health. [2]

Why children shouldn’t curse

A child’s first swear word might be spoken as early as at the age of 3. But when children swear at this age, it’s likely because they’re repeating what they’ve heard from someone else. To change your child’s behavior, you should control the way you behave. Firstly, don’t overreact if you child does swear, otherwise your child may repeat such words in an effort to get your attention. Secondly, there is no need to try to find out where your child learned these words or scold him/her. Just quickly turn his or her attention to something else.  

Children of eight years or older use swear words intentionally, so, it is important to explain to the child that it is an undesirable way of talking, as early as possible. The problem of profanity usually becomes more serious a little later, in early adolescence. A teenager swears in order to ‘fit in’ with a company of peers or to ‘prove’ his/her freedom and independence from adults.

According to psychologists, abusive language has a negative effect on a child’s general development, such as:

· Difficulties in appropriate communication with others start to appear

· A feeling of impunity prompts reckless behavior, which is reflected in the behavioral pattern

· The vocabulary becomes poor, which further interferes with communication with others

· Mental processes are inhibited. [2]


So, if your child uses unacceptable language, such behavior requires accurate intervention. Avoid categorical prohibitions or punishments: it is much more important to find out the reasons why your child has begun to swear. Psychologists believe that the reason for using swearing is connected with self-doubt and phobias. A child is unable to express his/her opinion or prove this opinion in a different, articulate way. For this reason, swear words become for children the only way to be understood by others.

Why ladies shouldn’t swear

For a long time, women have been striving for gender equality. As a result, now they can swear profusely. But is it really necessary?

Mostly, the negative attitude towards the use of obscene words by women is caused by gender stereotypes. It has been traditionally believed that the main role of woman is mother and the guardian of the hearth, and she should never use any obscene words, especially if she has children. Consciously or unconsciously, children copy the behavior of their parents, and they probably will swear, if their relatives do so. So, it is not good when a mother becomes a bad example for her children.


A swearing woman, in the eyes of those around her, may appear like a ‘dysfunctional’ person, a bad character. Will she be able to succeed in her career or find a worthy life partner? Of course it depends on many factors, not just her lexicon, but ‘bad’ language will certainly not contribute to women’s personal happiness.

How to get yourself or people around you to stop swearing

If you don’t have a verbal filter, sooner or later it may become a problem. There is a risk that the use of swear words will develop into a bad habit, which will be difficult to rid yourself of.

The most important thing is to understand that the regular use of swear words refers to an unhealthy behavior model. Behavioral psychology helps the fight against problem speech habits. One of its new methods is the 7Spsy technique-based behavior modification course, based on the theories of I. P. Pavlova, B.F. Skinner A. A. Ukhtomsky, and others.

Participation in the training will help you get rid of the habit of ‘automatic’ cursing. You or your loved one will have a chance to take more seriously what is said and under what circumstances. The positive attitudes acquired during the training will help you to understand how destructive profanity can be in communicating with others. This is the first step towards the understanding that our thoughts and feelings, including negative ones, can be expressed through the abundance of an alternative vocabulary in our rich language.

Participants receive all the necessary recommendations and daily consultations from the psychologist by phone and e-mail, as well as in online chat rooms. Training is strictly confidential, so you don’t have to tell anyone about the problem.


A beautiful, pure speaking style without profanity equates with a healthy lifestyle, calm temper, and lack of bad habits. Improve your speech and your life will change for the better!

Information from this website cannot be used for self-therapy and self-diagnostics. 

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