Swearing is not big and it’s not clever – but it might make you feel better when you hit your thumb with a hammer.
Have you ever wondered why, though? Can science tell us why swearing is cathartic? And is the effect different depending on what language you use?
These issues are being discussed by an expert panel at the British Science Festival being held in Swansea next week (September 6-9).
"Does swearing make you feel better and get rid of negative emotions?" asked Dr Gabriela Jiga-Boy, who will lead the discussion involving psychologists, a historian and a philosopher.
The Swansea University lecturer will address the evolution of swearing, why people do it and its effect on those dishing it out.
Social psychologist Dr Jiga-Boy said swearing is present in most cultures. These days, taboo words tend to have sexual connotations rather than religious ones – an exception being French-Canadian swearing, which still involved religious words.
"In some Asian languages, the most offensive swear words involve members of your family," she said.
But beyond merely causing offence, Dr Jiga-Boy said that swearing might help people vent their emotions.
"If I really want to vent and I speak more than one language, which language do I use? My first language might be more emotionally charged, but it might also make me more attuned to my negative emotions, instead of taking my attention off them. "
Linked to the discussion will be experiments in pubs in Uplands in which people's physiological responses to swearing, such as heart rate, will be measured and shown on a computer screen.
Dr Jiga-Boy's academic interest springs from her research into emotional regulation, for instance the ability to stick to deadlines or healthy eating routines.
“I am conducting research into the effects of swearing in one’s first versus second language, on one’s pain perception; and into the potential of swearing to help regulate the negative emotions that arise when we receive negative feedback about our performance.
“I believe research on this topic can contribute to our knowledge about how bilingualism translates into more efficient modes of communicating one’s emotions. The work is important in explaining how people regulate negative emotions using language. It is relevant especially in the context of multicultural Wales and the UK.”
Her current project looks at how people can think of events in the future without getting caught up in the negative emotions they might come to experience.
- Thursday 8 September 2016 01.08 BST
- Monday 15 July 2019 15.36 BST