Is the prohibition of cursing in schools and other social settings actually hurting society?
By: Carley Farella
Remember the time when you were little and your parents let out an accidental, but deafening “Fuck!”? They would then apologetically run over and beg you to never repeat what they called “curse words”. Society has a tendency to mask language that is considered vile or foul by forbidding them from speech or attempting to replace them; fuck has become “fudge”, shit now “shoot”, and “heck” substituted for hell. The words we try to hide and their interchangeable, harmless substitutes are simply just words. However society stigmatized “fuck” and celebrated “fudge” and “freak”. Profanity is censored everywhere, whether it is blurred out on the radio or television or it renders harsh repercussions from parents or teachers. We grow up with an irrational assumption that cursing is always inappropriate as it diminishes how others perceive our intelligence and character. However, profanity serves a physiological, emotional and social purpose — and it is effective only because it is inappropriate. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is responsible for using logical fallacies in their arguments on cursing as it falls into the Begging the claim fallacy, as the definition of curse words change over time, and they base their rationale on an unsound premise that cursing is objectively bad for people; Westfield High School also uses this unsound premise in their rules in the student handbook regarding cursing.
The FCC regulations regarding cursing is using the logical fallacy, Begging the claim, which argues that curse words are inappropriate and unacceptable to say. However, the reality is that the meaning/definition of swear words, as well as their importance, shifts over time, therefore, there is no actual logic, evidence, or reasoning to why these words have been condemned. Begging the claim is when the conclusion that the arguer should prove is validated within the claim, in other words, the person arguing does not explain the logic behind their argument. The claim by the FCC about cursing falls into this logical fallacy because society has been unable to broadcast these “vulgar” words using censorship to prohibit “bad words”. In reality, “profanity is a cultural construct” in that a bad word is only bad because “[we were] told that it was a bad word”, as explained by Dr. Bergen, a professor of cognitive science at the University of California. He adds, “The words are innocent, it’s the uses you can put them to that makes them harmful or not”. The FCC has deemed these words as vulgar and inappropriate, however, the FCC is using Begging the claim because these words evolve over time and do not always have the same meaning. Cursing and swearing have been branded as profane, belligerent and vulgar. The paradox is that these are words we have created and given power to yet still denounce their offensiveness. Humans perceive that there are certain words we should not or cannot say, which is why we have the idea of swearing. It was a code predetermined by our ancestors and carried through time to the modern tongue. The FCC cannot define a word as bad since curse words have evolved over time.
The FCC is using the unsound premise that cursing is objectively bad, meanwhile cursing is actually beneficial as these “unnecessary” and “disturbing” words have been proven to help individuals withstand pain. A study by Richard Stephens, a lecturer in psychology at Keele University, furthered this idea in his experiment involving students submerging their hands in ice water and repeat words for extended periods of time. He found that “participants who repeated a swear were able to keep their hand submerged in the ice water for almost 50 percent longer than those who repeated a neutral word.” This study proves that in order to cope with pain, cursing allows individuals to tolerate the experience for longer. Dr. Stephens added, that “swearing seems to trigger the natural ‘fight or flight’ stress response” that stimulates the release of hormones that prepare your body to either stay and deal with a threat or to run away to safety. Dr. Amy Cooper Hakim, Ph.D, claims, “when we swear, it sends a message to the amygdala in the brain.. which then gives us that burst of energy to make it through the difficult or painful task.” This applies to individuals every day as we are constantly struggling with mental and physical pain. Since cursing sparks our fight or flight response, and “increases our heart rate, which decreases the pain” cursing makes everyday obstacles easier to handle. These studies have verified that cursing is beneficial to when an individual is in pain, and creates a sound premise stating that individuals should curse in order to tolerate the pain for longer. This proves the unsound premise created by the FCC that cursing is bad for our modern culture.
The premise behind the Westfield High School policy on cursing is unsound as it is based on the idea that cursing will disrupt the student body, when research actually proves that exclamatory cursing may help the students. As stated within the WHS student handbook, the use of foul or profane language results in a suspension. However, cursing typically allows the individual to release stress when they become overly agitated and angry. Although it is important to note that students should not be able to speak in a manner that disrespects specific races, genders, or any social group, the groundless policies prohibiting other profanity oppress students in an environment where young adults feel the most stressed. “When we complain, vent or share anger without cursing, we are keeping ourselves in check” and failing to release tension and stress, but “when cursing, our whole body and all emotions are connected — no guidelines, no filter. The release is complete, and thus stress relieving.” Not cursing is purely artificial and according to professional social worker MacLeod, it can develop a type of Obsessive Compulsive behavior that traps tension until it becomes full-blown neurosis. The stress release is initiated from the exercise of cursing. This release of stress due to cursing is called “Lalochezia-emotional relief gained by using indecent or vulgar language”. Cursing is falsely deemed inappropriate in the most common settings, like high school, when in reality it is necessary for keeping an individual’s stress level low.
The unsound premises and logical fallacies created by institutions like the FCC and WHS has caused our society to fall into a false belief where we only see a singular, bad perspective on curse words. In reality, cursing actually helps us to release stress and tolerate pain. In short… if you cannot dig this shit, then you can go fuck yourself.