Reading progress update: I've read 5 out of 232 pages.

Swearing Is Good for You: The Amazing Science of Bad Language - Emma Byrne

Fair warning - It's a book about swearing and quotes will contain swear words.

For example, I’m definitely not the only person who uses swearing as a way of fitting in at work. On the contrary, research shows that swearing can help build teams in the workplace. From the factory floor to the operating theatre, scientists have shown that teams who share a vulgar lexicon tend to work more effectively together, feel closer and be more productive than those who don’t. These same studies show that managing stress in the same way that we manage pain – with a fucking good swear – is more effective than any number of team building exercises.

I knew it! Yet another reason to down-grade team building exercises.


Also, this made me giggle - and I hope the book continues in the same spirit:

And swearing is a surprisingly flexible part of our linguistic repertoire. It reinvents itself from generation to generation as taboos shift. Profanity has even become part of the way we express positive feelings – we know that football fans use ‘fuck’ just as frequently when they’re happy as when they are angry or frustrated.

That last finding is one of my own. With colleagues at City University, London, I’ve studied thousands of football fans and their bad language during big games. It’s no great surprise that football fans swear, and that they are particularly fond of ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’. But we noticed something interesting about the ratio between these two swear words. The ‘fuck–shit’ ratio is a reliable indicator of which team has scored because it turns out that ‘shit’ is almost universally negative while ‘fuck’ can be a sign of something good or bad. Swearing among football fans also isn’t anywhere near as aggressive as you might think; fans on Twitter almost never swear about their opponents and reserve their outbursts for players on their own team.

Publishing that research gave me an insight into the sort of public disapproval that swearing still attracts. We were contacted by a journalist from one of the UK’s most widely read newspapers. I won’t name it, but it’s well known for its thunderously moralising tone while at the same time printing long-lens photographs of women who are then accused of ‘flaunting’ some part of their bodies. We were asked (a) how much money had been spent (wasted) on the research and (b) whether we wouldn’t be better doing something useful (like curing cancer). I replied that the entire cost of the research – the £6.99 spent on a bottle of wine while we came up with the hypothesis – had been self-funded, and that my co-author and I were computer scientists with very limited understanding of oncology, so it was probably best if we stayed away from interfering with anyone suffering from cancer. We didn’t hear back. But this exchange brought home the fact that swearing is still a long way from being a respectable topic of research.