Swearing mitigates pain


49 Responses to “Swearing mitigates pain”

  1. DomoDomo says:

    Hmmm, headache Cory?

  2. Anonymous says:

    If swearing works for you, fine. But jumping around and yelling “yow, yow, etc.” as loud as possible works for me, even though it upsets my wife.

  3. Takuan says:


  4. Machineintheghost says:

    Oh, gosh golly gee whiz, I can’t wait for all the hilarious comments to this one.

  5. Anonymous says:

    It seems to me that it has more to do with how you’re swearing than the actual swearing; like a keeya in karate focuses your mind and power. You aren’t used to using that neutral word in that situation so it isn’t as effective. White belts who feel a little silly saying keeya when they first start eventually learn to use it. Have someone substitute “nougat” for their favorite curse word for a couple of weeks first and then see how they do with the ice water.

  6. Sethum says:

    There clearly needs to be more study on this relationship, seriously. I mean, a word is just a word, it’s not like expletives have magical powers, sSo it must matter how the “victim” relates to the word they shout out. I would like to see the experiment expanded to include non-expletive words like “Pain”, “Hate”, “Bad”, and “No”, or even to ask one group of volunteers to make inarticulate shouts or growls. I’m also curious to see how well euphemisms work as a substitute for expletives, as well as non-neutral, positive or soothing words.

    The underlying concept that pain tolerance is augmented by certain vocalized reactions is fascinating. I wonder if there is a connection with turrets or other diseases.

  7. wfpman says:

    For me sweating is painful. I hate summer!

  8. Brainspore says:

    George Carlin probably could have waded naked through a pool full of fire ants.

  9. nanuq says:

    Easy way to test this:

    (hits hand with hammer),


    Nope, still hurts.

    Isn’t empiricism fun?

  10. bjacques says:

    Which reminds me of a wonderful cartoon in the Guardian that appeared around the opening of Gilbert & George’s “Dirty Words” show in the Serpentine Gallery, London, a few years back.

    Surrounded by the works, which are large single-word expletives in frames, the assistants hanging them injure themselves and say things like “Mercy, that hurt!” and “Oh dear, I seem to have smashed my finger!”

  11. Anonymous says:

    F*ckin’ awesome! (Pun intended.) :)

  12. W. James Au says:

    It’s still goddamn unclear whether this shit can be replicated in double motherfucking blind trials, or if bitch ass researchers can empirically observe corresponding neurological activity in some cocksucker’s brain. Notwithstanding that, quite intriguing.

  13. wolfiesma says:

    I contrived a ridiculous experiment once to see if men or women cursed more for a research methods class. I don’t even remember the outcome. All I really learned is how you can basically prove any point by devising a psycho/social experiment. I do like the article and find the thesis interesting, but the idea that a “scientific experiment” like this one “proves” anything is silly. good. silly. fun.

  14. sammich says:

    for me it’s all in the fricatives… mostly ‘shhhhh’ for pain… ‘fffff’ for cold… (we didn’t have central heating until 16 years ago, sliding naked bodies between icy sheets was definitely made easier with a ‘f-f-f-frigg’n’fuck’ or even a ‘f-f-f-freeeeeezing’)

  15. Anonymous says:

    So does “Frack!” only relieve pain for BSG fans?

  16. wolfiesma says:

    tsk tsk tsk :)

  17. sammich says:

    don’t you go there wolfie’sma…

  18. Takuan says:

    oh, and #4? that’s “kiai”.

  19. Captdrastic says:

    Funniest use of a strategic shit ever. =D

  20. audax_axon says:

    Once, during a three day long marathon of sleepless final art project insanity, I nearly completely amputated the tip of my thumb with an x-acto blade. Staring at the damage, still in shock and realizing what had just happened before the nerves themselves had, was inexplicably inspired to rush over to the stereo and cranked the volume on the track that was queued up (in this case it was a particularly hectic one by the Master Musicians of Jajouka). Held my head there, directly in front of the loudspeaker driver.

    Darn it if it didn’t help overwhelm the pain for the first few minutes while applying compression!

    I wonder whether neuro-physiologically something related isn’t at work here.

  21. Ian_McLoud says:

    What was the record for keeping one’s hand in the ice-water the longest?

  22. Robbo says:

    I always trust in the efficacy of fucking morphine.


  23. jeremynyc says:

    @xopher: “(?coarse?)” was a reference to the cursing, not an actual spelling check.

    And yeah, I see that the other group was allowed to chant, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that if we watched video of the two groups we would see markedly different body tone and tone of voice between the two groups, with the cursers (not cursors ;) ) being noticably angrier, even with the sound turned off. And my notion, though I’ve got no grant money with which to “prove” it, is that it’s the anger that cuts the pain, not the word or phrase that is uttered.

  24. Zippy Gonzales says:

    Sounds like a motherfucking placebo effect.

  25. jeremynyc says:

    Um, anyone ever heard of adrenaline? No need to curse, just scream an angry scream and all sorts of pain killers will course (?coarse?) through your veins.

  26. Rickyneck says:

    In my opinion, it more with you than the actual swearing-how; keeya in karate as the focus of your thoughts and strength.

  27. wolfiesma says:

    The thing about anger/adrenaline is that it sometimes feels sort of good in the moment, but long term, its basically poison to the body and brain (imho)

    And thanks, Nail. :) At least we have the co-op of the mind, right? That groovy place where you, me, Bo Lazoff, and a few dozen of our closest friends get together and talk about the passion. Just can’t seem to get enough! :)

  28. TroofSeeker says:

    While I wouldn’t put much stock in this silly little study, I suspect that it may be true, to some small degree.
    Mothers, teachers and society have beat into our our heads (well, mine, anyway) that swear words are bad and inappropriate, so when I hurt myself and expletives fly out of me, all these yellow penalty flags fly in my mind. Maybe that distraction relieves the pain a little as I look around for anyone who may be offended.

  29. Xopher says:

    Oh, Jeremy…I’m sorry. Duhh on me, of course (coarse?). I can’t imagine why I totally missed that.

    And you may have a point there. I’d like to redo this study with people who are trained in glossolalia, as I am. I can curse in languages Not Of This Earth, and that Man Was Not Meant To Know. I wonder how much difference that would make to normal people (an experimenter would be extremely rash to infer anything from my case).

  30. Xopher says:

    JeremyNYC, ‘course’ was right. It’s the same usage as the ‘course’ of a river. ‘Course’ as in the path you follow is actually a metaphor based on that.

    And if you read the post, the other group were allowed to chant a neutral word; it didn’t help as much as a swear word.

  31. Xopher says:

    And isn’t it kiai? Ki, energy, and ai, sensing, thus your kiai is your “power feel”? As in Aikido, the way of sensing energy?

    Keeya. Humph.

  32. ill lich says:

    All across the world school teachers and nuns are pained to hear of this, luckily they now also know of a simple way to alleviate that pain. . . .

  33. Anonymous says:

    Once crushed my foot under a chunk of metal. Cursing really helped take my mind off the pain, even if it probably didn’t do anything.

    Thing is, pain perception is mostly cognitive. That’s why the placebo effect works so well.

  34. skye says:

    I love it when scientists discover things that the Buddhists/Hindus have known for millennia. The mind can’t focus on two discrete objects simultaneously.

  35. stevew says:

    I use ice water to relieve joint pain now, just groans escape my lips. I’m with #21 & #22. Hits from hammers hurt and the expletives used to help. It has changed with age, at 20 I sounded like #10. Hits that 40 years ago would have me exhaust my repertoire of four letter Anglo Saxonisms and invent new words now elicit merely a groan. It is who not what.

    Where’s the study of massive trauma that doesn’t hurt at all at first? There are a lot of Wily Coyote moments out there where the injured person feels no pain until they look down and the wound.

  36. Anonymous says:

    I’ve known this for a while. It works even better if you don’t curse about trivialities. Spending a good deal of time in my wood or metal shop, I get banged, cut, burned, and abraded on a daily basis. Throwing a heavy object while cursing really helps.

  37. wolfiesma says:

    I’m reading a very funny book right now called Rock Bottom by Michael Shilling. The use of swearing in there is pitch perfect. The characters, fraught with so many inner states of fucked-off-ness, curse up and down the pages and it is wonderful :) In this case, the swearing mitigates the emotional pain of the characters, and by proxy, the reader.

    Why I should derive some small comfort from hearing the raunchy exploits of a band on the skids in Amsterdam is beyond me… :)

  38. Anonymous says:

    Then there’s always the ones like when I blew out my knee a few years ago — it hurt so damned bad I could hardly breathe. My brain couldn’t even form words. After friends heard my primal screech and found me sprawled on the floor, all I could do was nod or shake my head and remind myself to breathe, because I kept holding my breath!

  39. Anonymous says:

    #21 is right: Just Scream! Yell! Made the force coming out be greater than the force (pain) coming in.

  40. FoetusNail says:

    Audax Axon, thanks for the Master Musicians of Jajouka.

    Tak, don’t worry, just as some people prefer whole albums, some people still read the whole thread.

    WolfiesMa, you rock! I wish you were in our co-op.

    Xopher, I miss you. Felt your frustration the other day, it was painful.

    Off to bed. Had a great day at the bar. Wish we could have a BB day before I die.

  41. Anonymous says:

    The brain treats swear words differently than other words, storage and retrieval characteristics, level of emotional arousal generated by the utterance, etc. This is seen in Tourette’s syndrome and various aphasias. Steven Pinker has written on this topic. So it may very well be that swearing increases pain tolerance.

  42. Anonymous says:

    Too bad this theory isn’t applicable to bigger contexts, or today George Carlin would have been alive and possibly immortal.

  43. Anonymous says:

    Xopher is correct – “course” was proper in that context. Of course, “coarse” could be applicable in the context of the article itself, and if you leave your hand or body in the ice water long enough, then “corse” might be appropriate. Gallop on, you coursers!

  44. AlveKatt says:

    Gaaah! This scientific study suffers from emotional deficiency…

    Anyone with a little empathy understands that the reason it hurts less when swearing is that it helps you channel the anger that can distract you from the pain… And that adrenaline that someone mentioned is probably part of it too, just like that someone said.

  45. 13strong says:





    (Can’t believe no one had made that reference yet…)

  46. Moriarty says:

    I remember reading about a hypothesis that the idea of “bad words” (which, if you think about it at all, is pretty strange) are an adaptation for avoiding violence. You blow off steam by releasing special words associated with aggression, instead of by beating one another with rocks. And a fragile society survives another day.

    And that, with all due respect to George Carlin, is precisely why they should remain “obscene.” Their transgressiveness gives them their power, and that power is very useful.

  47. Anonymous says:

    Its all about breathing. not swearing.

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