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What I've Learned, | May 02, 2017

Michael Adams, author of book on profanity


No more need to wash out your (EXPLETIVE) mouth -- this professor says swearing can be good for you.


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Michael Adams, Provost Professor of English at Indiana University Bloomington, poses in the reference section of the Herman B Wells Library on Tuesday, July 26, 2016. Adams is the author of the forthcoming book, "In Praise of Profanity".

Indiana University English professor Michael Adams grew up with a strict English professor father who emphasized perfect grammar but could swear a blue streak. Adams, 55, was not a swearer then and is not much of a swearer now, but he does believe people speak the way they do for a reason. We sat down with him to find out what he learned about four-letter words while writing his new book In Praise of Profanity.

Profanity brings us together.

Profanity is risky behavior to some extent, and you form bonds with people when you take risks with them. Coworkers often form bonds by swearing about their bosses and customers in private. I believe you gain people’s faith by saying it like it is instead of using elevated language.

Profanity enhances expression.

Imagine you’re walking through a mud puddle on a rainy day with a full backpack. A car drives by you, spraying you with water, and you drop your backpack into the water. What are you going to do? You’re going to swear because you need that release. Language has its limits, so profanity is there when what is happening to you is beyond expression.

Smart people swear often.

People who swear often are typically more acute. They’re good at gauging when profanity is useful and when it’s not. You start out by thinking profanity is terrible language, and the people who use it just don’t have enough words, but that’s not true.

Profanity is healthy.

Stick your hand in a bucket of ice water and see how long you can hold it there. People who swear while they do it can hold their hand in the water longer because they feel less pain. Swearing relieves that stress momentarily, which is probably why it’s in our brains in the first place.

It should be more socially acceptable for women to swear.

I have a 4 1/2-year-old daughter, and I hope she’ll learn to swear effectively. Some people think it’s an odd thing for a father to want his daughter to do, but there’s not equal opportunity for women until women can swear as much as men and be accepted for it. I don’t want my daughter’s polite voice to be drowned out by all the swearing the men are doing.

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