Expletive Deleted

Stub a toe? Yell out the F-word.

That may be something one does out of habit, reflexively, but don’t be too quick to judge the recently-injured for their uncouth language. If a study by researchers at Keele University in Staffordshire, England, is correct, uttering a string of curse words may be just what the doctor ordered.

In 2009, Dr. Richard Stephens and team published a study (available here) in the neuroscience journal NeuroReport, finding that swearing after experiencing pain could increase the person’s pain tolerance. To test the theory, Stephens found 64 volunteers and asked them to put their hand into a bucket of freezing water, and, while doing so, yell out a curse word of their choice, repeatedly. Then he repeated the experiment with the same people, but asked them to yell out a more socially acceptable word instead. The subjects kept their hands submerged, on average, for nearly two minutes while cursing, and for only one minute and 15 seconds otherwise.

Stephens believes that swearing may set off our acute stress response, more colloquially known as the “fight-or-flight” mechanism. As explained by the BBC, “the accelerated heart rates of the volunteers repeating the swear word may indicate an increase in aggression, in a classic fight-or-flight response of downplaying a weakness or threat in order to deal with it.” Of course, there are some limits — Stephens’ group notes that if you swear too much, you’ll condition your psyche to mute the curse words’ beneficial effect.

Bonus fact: The phrase “expletive deleted” gained prominence when the Nixon White House tapes were transcribed. When the transcription was put into the court record, instead of f-bombs and the like, the court transcriber used that phrase to indicate the presence of curse words without actually typing them out. As it turns out, the most common expletive Nixon used was “goddamned,” accounting for the majority of the censored terms.

From the Archives: The President’s Pants: The story of another tape recording of a President, in this case, Lyndon B. Johnson. And it contains a few, let’s say, interesting words.

RelatedPolly the Insulting Parrot: As the item says, it’s not for kids. Per one comment, it “swears and is a little perverted.”

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