It’s For Pete’s Sake Day. How do you feel about bad words at work?
Have you heard of a ‘minced oath?’ If you think it sounds like some kind of mediaeval cereal, join the (breakfast) club. But in fact it’s a kind of euphemistic swear word or phrase, like Fudge!, Mother Hubbard! or, you guessed it, ‘#ForPetesSake’.
But since everyone knows what you mean when you mince (ahem), should we be allowed to swear in the office? The only difference is the word, right? Not quite.
I found one paper that said when participants in a psychology experiment used real swear words, euphemisms and then neutral words, it was swear words that had the most response from their autonomic nervous system – the bit of our body that’s responsible for our running our involuntary reflexes.
Clearly, our swearing affects us. What’s more, we swear more colourfully when we’re emotionally aroused.
When researchers annoyed test subjects in another experiment, they found the subjects’ ‘swearing proficiency’ went up. And they produced a larger number of different swear words in a one-minute period. You could say swearing makes one more imaginative.
Don’t we want to encourage creativity in the office?
Swearing might also help us to manage pain. In a test in the US, university students had to submerge their hands in cold water, seeing how much pain they felt and how long they could last. Each student could keep repeating an expletive or chant a neutral word as they dunked their digits.
Scientific American reported that students that swore – intense bad-language swearing – reported less pain and were able to keep their hands in the water for 40 seconds longer.
Doesn’t everyone want pain-free employees?
There is a catch. I’ve found research that says swearing too much throughout the day actually lessens the pain-relieving effect of effing and blinding. Cockneys take note.
Considering how we’re hardwired to appreciate a good expletive, should we afford swear words a bit more respect?
Perhaps offices can have a swear jar that has a sliding scale for the creativity of the utterance. A simple ‘fudge’ or ‘sugar’ can be 50p a pop, but a grandiloquent swearing soliloquy – one peppered with multiple asterisks and bleeps – might warrant £5 or £10.
You could even have people chip in that didn’t swear, but appreciated the spectacle.
What would Pete make of all this? Who knows – for pity’s sake we’re not even sure who he was, the mysterious fudger.
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