The growing art of American cursing

Published 9:26 am Friday, May 4, 2018

By Tom Purcell

Get this: the average American can’t get through the day without cursing.

So is the finding of a recent 9Round Kickbox Fitness survey, as reported in the New York Post.

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Why are Americans cursing so much? One reason is stress.

Fifty six percent of survey respondents say financial worries are their biggest source of stress. A lack of sleep (36 percent), health concerns (35 percent), work (30 percent), the environment (9 percent) and our $20 trillion deficit (4 percent) are other sources of stress.

The survey didn’t explore politics, but the names “Trump” and “Pelosi” are generating an explosion of salty-tongued originality across our great land.

Whatever the source of our stress, cursing DOES relieve it.

A 2011 Keele University study, reports Forbes, found that yelling out curse words increases pain and stress tolerance.

Volunteers were asked to hold their hands in freezing-cold water twice. The first time, they shouted curse words. The second time they used inoffensive phrases. Each volunteer was able to keep his or her hands in the cold water longer while cursing.

“The researchers found that the enraged yelling raised the heart rate, which, they hypothesize, means that the yelling triggered a fight-or-flight response, ‘downplaying feebleness in favor of a more pain-tolerant machismo.”

That’s one reason why, concluded the researchers, that “swearing has been around for centuries and is an almost universal human linguistic phenomenon.”

Cursing has certainly improved my capacity to deal with stress. I studied cussing under the tutelage of my father, now 85, a maestro in the art form. He perfected his skills while attempting plumbing repairs in our home.

Over the years, cursing has helped me ease the pain of financial setbacks, a broken heart and unpleasant co-workers. On a daily basis, it helps me cope with people who write checks in front of me at the grocery store and moronic drivers who drive too slowly in the passing lane.

But the question is, why are so many Americans cursing these days?

Some argue that it reflects a breakdown in manners and civility and a growing coarseness in our culture. San Diego State University psychologist Jean M. Twenge offers a more intriguing theory.

According to the National Post, Twenge conducted a 2017 study that explored how the use of the “seven dirty words” featured in comedian George Carlin’s 1972 monologue, “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” changed in literature between 1950 and 2008.

Twenge found that the rise in profanity was dramatic as she measured a 28-fold increase between 2005 and 2008. She said the increase can be blamed on growing individualism, which is “a cultural system that emphasizes the self more and social rules less.”

Twenge says that “as social rules fell by the wayside, and people were told to express themselves, swearing became more common.”

That makes perfect sense to me.

Whereas younger generations are being taught to freely express their innermost feelings and frustrations using words that were once considered taboo, prior generations were taught the opposite.

When I was a kid in the 70s, we knew we were pushing the line if we used words such as “son of a gun,” “gadzooks” and “h-e-double-hockey-sticks.”

If we got caught using real curse words, we’d be enjoying a bar of Dove soap for supper.

In any event, now that cursing is no longer considered taboo, I see one big problem.

As more people cuss freely, curse words will lose their shock value and their capacity to relieve our stress.

The h-e-double-hockey-sticks with that!

Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood,” a humorous memoir available at, is a nationally syndicated humor columnist.