This is hypocritical of me, but I hate swearing. I really have a bugbear with vulgarities and the way they’re used. Especially in the army. I mean, I’m a guy; I probably swear just as much as the next guy, but only in a casual setting and when there aren’t any girls around. But sometimes it just gets a little too much. It bothers me when it’s way too excessive and uncalled for.
In the Vsauce video above, Michael mentions an hour-long talk by Steven Pinker, who classifies swearing into five categories: Abusive, Emphatic, Dysphemistic, Idiomatic and Cathartic. Micheal explains all five in the video, but I’m going to write out my own summary anyway.
Abusive swearing is used to intentionally hurt others. This is the type of swearing I can’t stand, for obvious reasons. Also, overuse of vulgarities to reprimand someone just reveals the limited the vocabulary of the scolder. But I also understand that is the main form of communication used by commanders in the army to keep their men in check. It’s a crude but simple way of maintaining authority through intimidation. Sometimes, it’s also used to inject humour at the expense of one person.
Guys insult each other but they don’t really mean it. Girls compliment each other, but they don’t really mean it either.
Emphatic swearing using the taboo-ness of the swear word as an adjective or adverb to emphasize something. Normally you wouldn’t use a vulgarity, but since you did, it indicates to the people around you how strongly you feel about whatever you’re emphasizing. So swear words are useful to help with communication.
Dysphemistic swearing, or just simply dysphemisms, is the use of derogatory terms used instead of a pleasant or neutral forms of the same word. Sometimes it’s used offensively, but it’s usually to a lesser degree than abusive swearing. Also, while abusive swearing is primarily used on people, dysphemisms are broader and encompass inanimate objects as well. For example, “loony bin” instead of “mental hospital”. Many dysphemisms are the result of slang and short forms.
Idiomatic swearing is used in a casual setting, when everyone else is your peer and it’s alright to swear. Everyone in the group is comfortable with swearing, which indicates a stronger level of closeness than acquaintances without being intimate.
Finally, cathartic is when you cuss to relieve pain and stress. Step on a Lego? Swear. Feeling frustrated while studying for exams? Just curse. Got dumped? Let loose a profanity. It feels good to swear because it eases pain and suffering a little. This also brings to mind Tourette’s Syndrome, when a person has a build up of tension within his or her body and the only release is to involuntarily curse. Not everyone who has this disorder has the need to cuss though.