How Swearing Leads to a Shitty Vocabulary

By Nat Eliason in Psychology

I love swearing. Swears are these wonderful little words that you can drop into just about any sentence to add more intensity or surprise your audience.

But, I’ve realized that they come at a cost. I swear so fucking much that I use certain words to replace huge swaths of other words, particularly the more intense versions of regular emotions.

I can be angry, annoyed, happy, excited, bored… and I can also be fucking angry, fucking annoyed, fucking happy, fucking excited, and fucking bored.

I can even replace the entire emotion with a swear word! “Oh, fuck!” can be anything from “this is terrible” to “this is annoying” to “this is exciting” to “that feels amazing baby don’t stop” to “holy shit you scared the crap out of me.” Simply having a few highly versatile swear words at our disposal lets us express a fucking huge variety of feelings without having to use other words at all.

My mental process for intensifying an adjective has turned into simply adding “fucking” to them. It’s so easy! Why use words like magnanimous when I can say “fucking huge!”

For writing and speaking, this is a problem. I tend not to describe things as awe-inspiring, I call them fucking beautiful. I don’t say I’m exhausted and drained, I say I’m fucking tired. I don’t say “they were deceptive and untrustworthy,” rather, “they were being shitty.”

You do it for too long and, consciously or not, people can start to wonder “Does he know any modifiers besides “fucking”?” And, “Where are the interesting adjectives?” Swear too much and you end up neglecting the charm of the incredibly expansive English language. Your words become stale and repetitive, boring both you and your audience.

But it’s also a problem for how you think. As Tony Robbins points out in Awaken the Giant Within:

“The words that we use consistently make up the fabric of how we think and even affect our decision making… An effective selection of words to describe the experience of our lives can heighten our most empowering emotions. A poor selection of words can devastate us just as surely and just as swiftly. Most of us make unconscious choices in the words that we use; we sleepwalk our way through the maze of possibilities available to us.”

The words you choose affect how you think and live. When something bad happens and you describe yourself as feeling “fucking annoyed” instead of “peeved,” you feel different. Seriously, try it now. How about when someone “does something shitty”? What does that even mean? What did they really do? How did it make you feel?

These catch-all swears unnecessarily elevate the intensity of our negative emotions, and while they can also enhance positive emotions, they do so in a boring fashion. When you see someone who takes your breath away, do you think of them as ravishing, elegant, seductive and enticing? Or do you say “they’re fucking hot?” If you drive through the mountains of Northern California, is it breathtaking, dazzling, magnificent, and vibrant? Or is it “super fucking pretty?”

‍#superfuckingpretty #nofilter #hashtag

The only reasonable course of action following this realization is to curtail one’s swearing and replace them with more compelling words. But then the question is, when do you use swears? Naturally, they can continue to be used for interjections and excitement, but what about in your writing, speaking, and presenting?

The key is to use them sparingly so they can catch the audience by surprise. If you go for a short while without using any swear words, and then slip one in, it’ll spark people’s curiosity and re-engage them. But, and this is important, that only works when they’re used sparingly.

Where that balance is will depend on the writer or speaker, but it’s worth experimenting with. I don’t think we should stop swearing entirely, swearing is fun! Rather, we should see swear words for what they are. A practical tool that can surprise people, pique their interest, and keep them from drifting off too much.

I really wanted to use a swear word in the last paragraph to show off how cool and clever I am, but it didn’t fit. In a prime example of the principle at work, it wasn’t worth sneaking one in at the risk of the paragraph sounding shitty.

Footnotes

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