The Upside of Profanity

A new study from the psychiatry department in New York’s Bellevue Hospital examines the use of offensive language by medical staff, patients, and families. The results: “Swearing can also be used as a psychological tool in the service of helping. Swearing may provide a channel of catharsis for aggressive drives and affects that have been building in either the doctor or the patient.” The upside of profanity may surprise some people; Rex Ryan (NC-17 link) is not one of them. [%comments]


If we could only be profane on the NYTimes blogs we would likely make inroads into the anger seething in America.


Whether catharsis is truly achievable through aggressive behavior is a subject of debate:


Profanity, moral or not, is truly unprofessional. The "youarenotsosmart" link is a great article, but the profanity makes it seem highly unprofessional. Same with Rex Ryan.

Eric M. Jones

You have to wonder. Using "bad" language might be seen as social mores. Why there should be laws about social mores could be argued--the anarchist in me says "F**k Yeh".

But perhaps human civilization demands that people follow these mores, like the innumerable small mores dictating how we behave on the road, or in public--don't upset the herd.

These things evolve. In my life I have been sent to the principal for writing (!) "heck" in a class assignment. I don't use a whole range of words heard commonly. British TV uses words forbidden on US TV. This must keep us safe somehow.

Occasionally I run across Goodfellows or similar video fare where the F-word has been redubbed. Amusing and not very good art.


So the study found out that cursing makes you feel better or helps you cope.

Fantastic. I could have told them that for free. How much of my tax dollars did it cost instead?


There is an upside to robbing banks, too -- greater disposable income.


"Profanity ... is truly unprofessional" Sorry, that's entirely a question of context. My job puts me in the company of a wide range of workers, and while there are times where profanity would indeed be "unprofessional", there are other times where avoiding profanity would create a barrier between me and my company's customers that would simply make my job harder.



assuming that you indeed pay taxes, which is a big a$$umption to make (side note, gee that felt good), given that there are over 150 million taxpayers, your out of pocket cost is less than one one-hundredth of a cent.



Oh, so that makes it OK to waste money on BS studies.


I don't think this is necessarily a waste of money. For one thing, many studies lead to counter-intuitive results. You don't know what the results are going to be before you do the study. Secondly, I'm not sure that results here are all that obvious. As someone above mentioned, there are times when swearing is appropriate and useful, and others where it isn't. A lot of people take offense at any swearing, so a strict ban on swearing is often expedient, but may lead to inefficiencies in areas/discussions where moderate swearing makes your point better and more efficiently than avoiding the offensive words. Certainly, there's probably a limit to how much and when swearing is appropriate, and I expect the study addresses this.

Tyson F

Profanity laced tirades at inanimate objects, ideas, situations and arguments is very cathartic.

Attacking someone personally with or without using profanity is counterproductive.

Eric M. Jones

Good communication is the responsibility of the communicator, not the communicatee.

So cuss if you need to.


Using profanity is unethical and unprofessional when a doctor is dealing with a patient as well as for any business man or women dealing with a client. The client or patient could also see it a sign of disrespect. This is so because you might know that using profanity is actually not that bad according to psychologists, but not everybody knows that and so it might be perceived as an offense, and people might feel disrespected. So, it may be true that using profanity does serve as a catharsis for aggression, but the cost of doing so may be hurting those around us or the people whom we work with, and this outweighs the benefit of cussing.


I never understood this fascination with cuss words. These are words that are bad for the simple reason that you were told that they are bad. Instead of getting up in arms over cuss words, how about we go after the attitudes behind them? Simply substituting one word for another doesn't lessen the anger behind it.

What the real issue is if yelling and speaking your mind helps. No surprise that it's better than bottling it up. Just be careful you don't insult someone, cuss words or not.