Friday, November 18, 2011

Bugger - ah, that's better

A recent article in the scientific/academic literature reports that swearing definitely offers relief from pain.  When we swear so our pain tolerance increases.  This report is not yet another example of the laborious discovery of the obvious. Although we might have suspected that an instantly bellowed oath somehow lessens the pain of the hammer blow on the thumb, we did not  know for sure that this might be a real effect, that is an effect that might have some physical basis rather than merely reflecting a cherished belief.  The authors suggest that it works by producing an emotional response.  I should think that there might be several emotional responses involved at many points, from the hammer blow onwards.

There is more and it is less comforting.  They also report that those who engage in a great deal of daily swearing, not merely in reaction to the stubbed toe, cracked shin or crushed thumb, become somewhat immune to the increased pain relief from the instant expletive.  In other words, overuse of swearing lessens its effectiveness.  This again, might come as no surprise to those who make observations of daily life.  The once a year, rather politely enunciated 'fuck' from an otherwise closely defended coffee morning wife from the affluent suburbs has far greater effect than the word's admittedly creative use many times in any single sentence in other quarters.  But the effect is to lower the pain tolerance, so it is better not to overdo it.

By the way, in the summary of their article the authors mention swearing, of course, but in brackets they put 'cursing'.  Is this because they believe the reader might not know what swearing is?  Or might there be some subtle academic distinction here?  The concise Oxford does not distinguish between the two words to any great extent, so this might be the shape of things to come in academic papers.  Every time a word (particularly an everyday word) is used, then its synonyms will appear in brackets (parentheses), just in case the other handful of academics who read it somehow miss the point.

The point of all this however is that we now have an excuse, well actually rather more than an excuse - perhaps, to put it academically,  a rationale - to let rip when the hammer slips or the little toe catches on the chair leg or we attempt to walk through the closed ranch slider yet again.  We are simply lessening the pain, which surely no-one would begrudge.

There are implications though, possibly indicating further research.  There is more than one sort of pain.  There is all manner of social and emotional pain when people make adverse remarks or criticise us or suggest that we are to be blamed for something that was nothing to do with us.  Might this type of pain also be relieved by a sudden 'bugger that!', or even by a string of neatly created curses?  This could change the tenor of meetings across many walks of life.  It is surely worth a try, but don't forget not to over do it.  It will lose all effectiveness if you do it every time the chairperson speaks - and so might you.

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