Swear words have many functions. They can be used for emphasis, for comedic effect, as a shared linguistic tool that strengthens social bonds and maintains relationships, or simply to cause offence and shock.
They are words that can be emotionally electrifying. We can express utter horror, disdain, or just frustration through the utterance of a simple four-letter word (or several). But swearing isn’t always associated with negative emotions or unpleasant events.
A study by Emma Byrne investigated how swearing on Twitter was used by fans at football games. It was, at least for those supporters, a way of succinctly and eloquently describing their experiences and personal stories.
When swearing in tweets, football fans rarely swore about an opposing team or match officials. Swearing was reserved for celebrating the dizzying triumphs or lamenting the failures of their own team. It allowed the users to intensify their positive (“fucking beauty”) or negative (“fucking painful”) thoughts and feelings.
Byrne and her colleagues found that when swearing, the authors of the tweets implicitly assumed that their readers shared and understood their context and associated feelings.
Her subsequent book concluded that swearing is actually good for you. It expresses our emotions, and makes us feel better. And as one well known experiment showed, in certain situations, swearing can even reduce pain.
Read more: The Conversation