Lilian Min
August 07, 2016 1:01 pm
HBO

The first time I cursed, I felt like I’d lit a torch inside myself, and well, it’s still burning. Once you adopt swearing into your life, it’s pretty hard to totally let go of the habit. For most people, profanity is just part and parcel of their daily language, and in a piece for New York Magazine‘s Science of Us, writer Drake Baer makes a convincing argument that cursing is a way to bond with and reinforce bonds with other people — essentially, inside social jokes made up of four letter words.

Baer wrote in support of a recent Quartz piece arguing that parents should swear in front of their children as a way of normalizing the practice. While that’s definitely something that every individual set of parents should talk out, the social power of swearing is real. Think of every awkward moment you’ve deflected with a well-placed swear word, or the pleasure in cussing out a friend’s dirtbag ex. Curse words are pretty much meaningless on their own (as anyone who’s learned another language’s curse words can attest), but they can be an unlikely olive branch, a way of signaling “I get you” and cementing the specificity and trust in a bond. Or as Baer puts it:

Is this a free pass to swear it up all the time, and in front of kids? Not really, but the next time you drop some profanity in a conversation, think about who you’re talking to and why you feel comfortable talking #!@* with them. We’re willing to bet that they feel the same way about you.

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