In my early career, I wrote, shot, edited, and produced health news segments that ran on a local television station. The difficult thing about doing this 3 times a week is figuring out how many ways can you say, “Eat right, don’t smoke, exercise, get enough sleep, eat right, exercise….” Generally speaking, health news isn’t really news.
This week is different! There’s big news from a study published in the Journal of Pain. The first item of note is that there really is a publication called the Journal of Pain. I bet the mailman treads carefully in the front yards of homes of subscribers. Seriously, don’t mess with the Journal of Pain guy.
Secondly, Fox News tells us that these researchers are hot on the trail of divining the ins and outs of pain relief through swearing. Previous studies have shown that swearing can help reduce the effects of pain. This new study sought to determine if people who swear more habitually (did I just phonetically swear?) experience less benefit from the pain relieving aspects of swearing than those who do not swear habitually (there I go again).
This is the kind of science that every 5th grade boy dreams of pursuing as a career. Bring in test subjects, make them very uncomfortable, and give them dirty words to say. Rinse. Repeat. This study comes from Great Britain, a country that is reportedly very low on money, so I’m glad someone was able to fund a project of this importance.
What’s the bottom line? To quote from the Pain Journal’s report:
For many people, swearing (cursing) provides readily available and effective relief from pain. However, overuse of swearing in everyday situations lessens its effectiveness as a short-term intervention to reduce pain.
This is your doctor speaking: overuse of swearing reduces the pain relieving benefits of cussing a blue streak.
Did I just swear? I really don’t make a habit of it, at all. I’m a good Christian boy, raised in a good Christian household. But when I was a kid, we were allowed to say “damn” in one specific context, and it wasn’t a religious one.
The deal was this: my grandfather swore as a natural part of his vocabulary. The “minor cuss words” were the adjectives that peppered his every day conversation. He reserved the major cuss words for pain or serious frustration, and my grandfather had a lot of pain and frustration. In fact, the first “f-bomb” that was ever dropped on me was by my grandfather when I was 11 years old. I reached for the “tint” control on his TV because all the people’s faces were green and he exclaimed “Don’t fiddle with it!” (except he didn’t say “fiddle”) Don’t get me wrong, he was a terrific grandfather in many ways, he just had more than his fair share of “colorful metaphors.”
Granddad came to our house to help bag leaves one autumn, and because we were suburbanites at the time , the leaves had to be shoved into flimsy leaf bags. As he accidentally ripped the bags over and over, he complained about those “damn bags.” He did it so many times, it started to get funny (to the rest of us). For years afterward we never called those bags “leaf bags”. Even my sainted mother would tell me, “JT, go out to the garage and get me one of those damn bags.”
So, we had our fun, but we knew better than to use any of George Carlin’s 7 Dirty Words You Can’t Say on Television. We didn’t even use the other 15 or so “Word’s You Can Say on Television But You’d Better Not Say In Our House,” and I’m fine with that. It means I don’t have to guard my speech carefully around little old ladies, priests, and potential clients, and I like that.
But everyone has their own opinion about swearing. Just in this past week I’ve come across a couple of blog posts that explored the subject. The first, by TamaraOutLoud was a guest post she did on Strong Words. It really wasn’t about cussing, but it involved some cussing nonetheless (and was a visceral, honest, eye opening post). Shortly after that I came across RobShep.com com’s post on Things That Make Me Want to Cuss. In this post, Rob poked fun at cussing and explained why he doesn’t cuss.
Why all the fuss about cussing? Because the things we say really matter, our words can heal or hurt, and oftentimes our values get distorted when it comes to words. For instance, ask anybody what the worst cuss word is, and you’ll get a wide variety of responses. Most of the responses you get will be wrong. You see, the Bible calls us to be “of sound speech”, but the one expletive that is specifically forbidden is using the Lord’s name in vain. Wow. It’s hard to imagine a great family film like The Princess Bride with F-bombs and such, but little Fred Savage had no trouble sneaking a “Jesus! Grandpa!” into this PG film. The world doesn’t get it: God’s name really means something, and we should say it with care.
But what about the rest of the World of Cussing? Am I saying it’s “Open Season” for everything else? Not really, but it may be hard to argue with science. What if researchers continue their relentless pursuit of this weighty topic and one day you go to your Doctor for a sore knee, but instead of getting a prescription for a serenity inducing pain pill, he gives you a list of nasty words to say?
Let’s just hope the drug companies don’t patent those words so they can charge for them. If they do, I may have to ask for the less expensive generics.
“Doctor, can I get by if I just use the over-the-counter Darns, Gollys, and Fiddlesticks?”