A couple of weeks ago Richard Stephens PhD presented a study to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society. It claimed swearing increases strength during physical exercise.
The way I read it, the research suggests that swearing not only helps people tolerate pain but makes them briefly stronger. This may be why we swear when we hurt ourselves. If you scream f&%$ when you've been hit by a car, you'll not only feel less pain at the time but have increased strength to deal with hitting the ground a second later.
This is great news for profane sports people. Screaming the C word when you bowl will increase the speed of your delivery. Yelling MF as you tackle will make the hits harder. Shouting "s***" every time you throw a dart will make it fly straighter. If Joseph Parker yelled "crap" as he threw punches he'd be more likely to knock out giant Romanians. Kevin Barry should get on to that. He should also get on to his own hair. There's something shockingly unnatural happening up there.
If swearing helps with strength and pain relief why aren't we teaching our children to swear? If your 3-year-old shouts "f%$k sake" after stubbing her toe, instead of scolding her you should buy her an icecream. You should also pat her on the back for screaming "C, C, C" after standing on a piece of lego. Instead, we punish them for such behaviour. What's wrong with us?
When I was 4 years old, my sister soiled our shared bath water. I swore loudly and was pulled out by my dad and thrown into the cold Dunedin night. Admittedly she claims it was me who produced it and maybe it was, but either way there was a floater in the bath and it caused me to swear. Turns out according to science I did the right thing. I was only trying to increase my strength to deal with a complex situation. Actually, now I think of it, it was a wee.
The cycle continues from father to son. I also don't swear in front of my kids or allow them to swear in front of me. The other day I told my 7-year-old off for yelling: "The ball hit me right in the Johnsons." To be fair, this was not a swearing problem. It was more a point of logic. You only have one Johnson so you cannot be hit in the Johnsons. But a good parent would have told him to yell "f&@k" next time. To help him with the pain.
What kind of horrible, evil parent wouldn't want their injured child screaming the C word over and over again? If it helps.
Blasphemy has also been in the news over the last few weeks with Stephen Fry being investigated by Irish police over this harsh review. "The god who created this universe, if it was created by god, is quite clearly a maniac, an utter maniac, totally selfish." I wonder if blasphemy works like swearing does? Would it also help on the sportsfield?
Like so many modern-day New Zealanders I have failed to curb blasphemy in my family. Just the other day my son blasphemed in front of Christ himself. Walking into a seminary we were confronted by a very large and accurate statue of the crucifixion. He yelled "Jesus!" Which is on the surface fine. He was correct - it was Jesus. However, he was yelling out of fright not greeting. Hard to say whether or not he gained strength from yelling "Jesus" at Jesus. But it did make me think about words. If he had said "Jesus" and waved nicely at Jesus that would have been weird but sweet. But yelling "Jesus!" so loud everyone looked at us felt blasphemous. Which is still punishable in New Zealand by 12 months in prison. Same word, different outcomes.
Most Kiwi parents teach their kids not to swear. Cussing is one of the things we fight against on a daily basis. Like you, I thought we were doing the right thing. But now science suggests we are robbing them of valuable strength and pain relief. Stamping out the F-word is effectively hurting them. Turns out we're all terrible parents. For shame. Having said that, the study hasn't been peer reviewed yet. It might all be bulls***.
This article was first published on nzherald.co.nz and is republished here with permission.