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Health, The Mind

Holy Frijoles! Swearing is a natural pain-killer

'Pirates'Stubbing your toe has to rank as one of the most painful experiences ever. Beaten only, perhaps, by a bonnet lid falling on your head or trying to pass a kidney stone. Such agonies momentarily wrack the senses, making us see red while focusing our entire being on our toe – or head – or loin . Hoping on one foot or head rubbing invariably follows, accompanied by the expulsion of an expletive or two. Of course, bellowing vulgarities in public isn never a good idea and usually results in a severe reprimanding from our nearest and dearest, should they be within earshot. Yet according to research from Keele University, the odd swearword here and there mightn’t be all that bad – and could even be effective for numbing life’s worst pains.

In the world’s first ever pain and swearing experiment, seventy one willing volunteers agreed to subject themselves to agony. Selflessly plunging their arms into a bath of bitterly cold water, their task was to keep it there until they could stand it no more. When given specific words to say, those who spoke profanities could tolerate significantly more pain. Turning the air blue, it seemed, was a natural response to deal with pain – similar to how we may automatically shake a bruised finger or suck cut thumb. In a moment of intense stress, the explosion of expletives will feed into our already fired-up emotional state – triggering a further surge of adrenaline. The heart rate climbs as the social unpleasantries do, and the pain drops. Such adrenaline-fuelled pain relief is very similar to how sportspeople can sometimes break bones during play bit not feel it until they stop.

So from a medical point of view, it is difficult to argue against swearing in life’s worst moments. But take heed before you start effing and blinding: the more you swear, the less it works. The Keele researchers found that people who swear regularly didn’t get the relief that clean speakers do. When profanities are part of your normal vocabulary, they become meaningless, no longer causing an adrenaline surge, rendering them useless against pain.

My concern, though, is that as an upstanding member of the community, it would be improper to encourage cursing. To do so would cause offense and marital discord. There is an easy solution, however. I have come up with some memorable alternatives for the most well-known of offensives. They are: ‘Holy Frijoles!’,  ‘Smurf it!’, ‘Pluck a duck!’, ‘Monkey Flunker!’, and my personal favourite, ‘Oh, my stained trousers!’

And as a bonus, not only will these more socially acceptable swearwords hopefully relieve pain, but they will certainly raise a smile or two in anyone who hears sure. I have no doubt you will find them extremely useful. Just make sure you don’t overdo it.

Thanks for reading – all opinions expressed are my own. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below.

Image source: pirates by Sharyn Morrow on Flickr

About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...


One thought on “Holy Frijoles! Swearing is a natural pain-killer

  1. Yep. Bad words are perfect then I whack my thumb with a hammer. It does ease the pain, I can attest to that.

    Posted by Dave LeBlanc | October 31, 2014, 2:52 pm

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