“Hurry or we’ll miss your breakfast! Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” I yelled.
His response let me know that I was overwhelming my favorite little 4-year-old buddy.
“Heck! heck! heck! heck! heck,” he said flapping his arms and trying to comply.
Why do people curse?
“It’s because they don’t know any better words to use,” my dad said to me. That quote may not be dead-on. It’s a childhood memory from a camping trip. We were walking to an outhouse. Cursing can be offensive in mixed company, so anyone who wants their child to climb the social ladder would do well with an answer like this. But ideas on what constitutes a potty mouth vary widely.
My wife’s family is from the Wild West and they like to think of themselves as being a little more rough and tumble in their speech. They tell of Sarah’s first words with a grin.
“Oh Schick,” she said, repeating after her daddy, who had just cut himself shaving. My family is a less salty bunch and making a good impression on them has always been a high priority for Sarah.
One day, she heard Owen say “What the heck?!” Since she wasn’t sure where my conservative family drew the line on phrases like that, she decided to play it safe and taught Owen that “heck” was a curse word.
“Say what on earth–instead of what the heck?” she told him.
But his friends at school were using “What the heck” and he didn’t feel “What on earth?” was cutting it. So he fashioned, “What the puppet?!” for himself instead.
We backtracked on heck soon after that and here he was trying to get out the door quickly in the morning finding himself in a hailstorm of heckfire. It was cute, and an eye-opener.
Clearly, he was just being a little boy and there was nothing malicious in his attempt to grab for a saltier word. Watching him, I wondered if there was another reason for cursing. Do people have a psychological need to curse? Is there a positive side or benefit to swearing?
In his article, “Why Do We Swear?” John M. Grohol, PsyD, editor-in-chief of psychcentral.com, writes “Swearing is beneficial in ways that people may underestimate or take for granted. Swearing is often cathartic — it often frees us of the feelings of anger or frustration we hold and allows expression for them.”
He goes on to add that not only can cursing be used for humor, social commentary and to convey extreme emotion, it can even be used as a substitute for violence.
Taking things a step further, researchers say expletives can “reduce physical pain,” according to Time magazine article, “Bleep! My Finger! Why Swearing Helps Ease Pain,” by Tiffany Sharples.
So it seems that curses can have a number of positive effects. Experts also agree that cursing is a universal experience and a natural part of development.
“Virtually all people swear, and people swear pretty consistently throughout their lifetime — from the moment they can speak to the day they die. Swearing is almost a universal constant in most people’s lives,” writes Grohol.
But it’s not just humans that are hardwired to swear cathartically, did you know that apes swear? Gorillas who have been taught sign language have also fashioned their own curse words.