This year I eschewed my usual embrace of setting New Year’s resolutions in favor of tackling my deep backlist. There’s one exception: I’ve resolved to cut way back on swearing.

In recent years, I’ve started swearing more and more: with friends, with colleagues, with the family. For a long time, I felt OK about that. For starters, I enjoy it. And research shows that swearing has a number of benefits.

One study found links between how fluent a person is in the English language and how fluent they are in swearing. This “verbal fluency” suggests that having a wide range of swears at your disposal enables you to communicate with maximum effectiveness.

Other research shows that those who use profanity frequently are perceived as more honest. We get to the point faster, which might mean speaking impulsively and without a filter.

Where there’s a large status gap between speaker and listener, cursing can be highly offensive. But that cuts both ways. Swearing can also signal that the speaker does not believe the difference in status to be that large, thereby fostering social cohesion.

So, with so much to love, why give it up? To begin with, if you swear *too* much, the swears themselves lose meaning. As I often say to my clients with regard to public speaking, less is more.

It also really bothered me when, a year or so ago, my teenage daughter began to swear with abandon. Until then, while her brother and I swore like banshees, she and my husband demurred. When I called her on it, she responded “That’s rich. You swear more than anyone I know.”


So I decided to experiment with what it would feel like if I consciously reduced the amount of swears in my life. Like many things, you only figure out what you can live without once you give it up.

Why not go whole hog, you may be wondering? During my childhood, there were two approaches to observing Lent, the six-week season prior to Easter where observant Catholics typically renounce something they enjoy, like sweets or alcohol. In one version, you didn’t have that thing at all. In a second version, you were allowed to indulge on Sundays.

Back then, I always opted for the more Draconian version. These days, I’m kinder and gentler with myself. Let’s face it. 2021 is going to be a stressful year. Swearing has proved to be highy effective for increasing pain tolerance. More to the point, I don’t want to completely deprive myself of the frisson that comes from uttering the odd swear word.

As one of my friends observed when I confessed my goal of reducing – but not eliminating – swearing in 2021, “Yeah, I get it. We all need dessert once in a while.”

Amen, bro. And by the way? You’ll never catch me giving up dessert

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