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28 December 2021

The joy of swearing

When was the last time you really swore? It could be good for you.

By Stephen Tuffin

When was the last time you swore? Like, really let go. Released a flock of choice words out into the ether and into the ears of passers-by who were busy minding their own business, cycling to the shops to get a newspaper and a packet of rich tea biscuits, until they found themselves lying discombobulated in a privet hedge having been submitted to your filthy, potty-mouthed ranting?

Well, never mind them, that’s their look out. You, on the other hand, can rejoice. Because there is now enough evidence to prove, beyond all f***ing doubt, that swearing is good for you.

When I was a kid, swearing was taboo – except for that one time when my dad, a hulking great navvy of a man, took me down the yard where they kept all the equipment road workers used out on the roads, and I witnessed the cutting down of a tree. An elm, I am reliably told. At home, that evening, sat on the kitchen table of our council house, my mum scrubbing my hands and face, she asked, what I’d done that day. Fortunately, I’d overheard the ganger-man tell my dad exactly what the day’s work would entail.

“We cut down a f***ing great tree,” I said.

At any other time I’d have been threatened with having my mouth washed out with soap and water, but not this time. This time I got away with a “it’s not nice saying that word” from my mum and a snigger from my dad.   

Now, it turns out, such attempts to stop us using the F word was misguided. Researchers have discovered that swearing when in pain or making a titanic effort to lift something, relieves discomfort and increases strength. It’s great for anxiety and tension, too.

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But secretly I already knew this to be the case. No one can tell me that there’s a better word than the F-word for relieving pain after stubbing your bare toe on the leg of your bed. There just isn’t. I’ve tried using, “Blast!” and, “Confound it all!” – but they just don’t cut it.

Swearing could be a free alternative medicine at a time when saving NHS funds is at the forefront of all our minds. Surgeries, gyms, hospitals and health farms could ring out to the sound of great strings of expletives. There might, in time, even be a prize for the most original 75-word profanity. I can see the Olympics beckoning – with me, front and centre, championing strong language and its numerous benefits.

“And the gold medal in Filthy and Foul Language goes to Stephen Tuffin of Great Britain.”

There’s me, decked out in my specially designed swearing tracksuit, up on the podium, cursing like a navvy at the silver and bronze medallists from the US and Namibia.

I’ll probably be the first ever professor of foul and offensive language to wander the hallowed corridors of Oxford, muttering: “F*** me, that statue of Shelley is f***ing huge!”

And a sea of young students would part, heads bowed, as I stroll by in my fancy don’s gown, deep in foul thought. I’ve little doubt in my mind that in time they’ll turf Shelley out on to the lawn and replace his statue with one of me doing a two-fingered salute.

Stephen Tuffin is supported by A Writing Chance, a UK-wide project from New Writing North designed to discover new writers from underrepresented backgrounds whose voices have historically not been heard in publishing and the media. You can read work by other writers in this initiative here.

A Writing Chance is co-funded by Michael Sheen and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and supported by the New Statesman and the Daily Mirror. The project is delivered by New Writing North and literature organisations nationally, with research from Northumbria University.

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