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"I swear, I will try not to swear!" - (1/1/2019)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

The pharmacist always braces himself when Jake comes through the drug store door. Jake has Tourette’s syndrome, a neuropsychiatric disorder, for which he is being treated. Aside from the physical tics he displays, such as throat clearing, rapid blinking, and shoulder-shrugging, he sometimes lets out a barrage of curse words right out in public. Despite the common fallacy that Tourette's syndrome is defined by uncontrollable and socially inappropriate cursing, only 10% of Tourette's patients actually exhibit that symptom. Coprolalia, the involuntary utterance of obscenities, profanities, and derogatory remarks, is an extreme example of a vocal tic. Jake has the vocal tic. When the compulsion overcomes people like Jake, yelling inappropriate or culturally taboo remarks or phrases is an unintended incident. 

Why does this happen? One theory suggests damage to the amygdala, a region of the brain that normally controls anger and aggression. Because cursing is a form of verbal aggression, amygdala damage could result in the inability to control hostility, including cursing. A coprolalia sufferer might blurt out ethnic slurs, even if the patient himself is not racist, an embarrassing and distressing situation for all involved. When Jake is in the pharmacy, the pharmacist gets his prescription ready ASAP in the event he slips into a tirade. 

Then, there is Jimbo. The pharmacist always braces himself when Jimbo bombs through the door. Jimbo does not have Tourette’s. But he does have a foul mouth. “Listen, Doc, these meds are making me sick as f***. I’m tired of all these doctors and s***.” Jimbo peppers his language with more swear words than Mexico has jalapeños. When he does it in the store, it is more than awkward.

Why do people use offensive swear words as abundantly as Jimbo does? The A-word, the B-word, the C-word, the N-word, the S-word? Some do it out of anger (G.D. IT!). The pharmacist’s dad used to swear in Italian. When he did, we kids knew he was mad, without knowing exactly what he said. For other people, spewing profanities is like breathing. Presumably, taboo words are used because speakers cannot find better words with which to express themselves. However, a 2014 study published in Language Sciences has determined otherwise. According to the study, those who swear are actually more f****** creative, funnier than s***, and have a G. D. vocabulary as big as the freaking outdoors. Looking at Jimbo, the pharmacist was not buying it. 

Cuss words pack a punch. They can tell the listener “I am right. Case closed!” They are used for emphasis. “Holy s***! That party was hot!” Or, they can be used to intimidate. “You took my parking space, you ditzy c***!” Children can pick up such words, as the pharmacist’s 3-year old nephew did one day. When asked about how he learned that word, the boy said he heard daddy say it in the garage when he hurt his hand. Alas, most swearing is predictable. The same 7 words. 

So, let’s make cursing more creative. Instead of saying, “I don’t give a flying f***!” you can say, “I don’t give a Flying Wallenda!” When someone cuts you off on the highway, instead of yelling “Hey, a******!” you can say “Hey, halfwit!” Whatever happened to dagnabbit? This pseudo-profanity is not offensive and even has cartoonish characteristics. The word is fun to say. And it has hard sounds that should satisfy even the biggest potty mouth. Speaking of Jimbo, he took his meds and left. Then, the pharmacist noticed he forgot his car keys. “He’ll be back in about two f****** seconds,” the pharmacist said (to himself).

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a registered pharmacist, medical writer, and principal at Rx-Press.com. Read more at www.rx-press.com 


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