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4 Ways You Can Swear To Quit

Being a film critic for the past twenty-plus years has made me consider our society's obsession with swearing from many different perspectives. Hollywood scripts are typically full of various types of vulgar language, usually intended to shock us or present a typecast character -- be it a tough guy or a crass business tycoon. At the rate of two or three of these words per minute in many PG-13 and R-rated movies, their ability to capture attention diminishes quickly. Television, once a medium that needed to keep its mouth clean, is often even worse and videogames are joining the profanity party.

All this cursing has had a deleterious affect on our spoken language. Students in school swear. So do their teachers. PhDs swear. Firemen. Doctors. Mothers. Fathers. Six-year-olds. Even psychologists are telling us swearing is a good thing. The Psy.D. who authored the linked article quotes a study that essentially says swearing feels good and is a normal part of human development. Ah yes, the old, "If it feels good, do it" argument. There are many aspects of human development that feel good, but some shouldn't be shared in public -- including swearing.

The supposed "shock" of hearing a bad word is long gone. Now it's far more shocking to have a conversation and not hear a profanity. So, at the ultimate risk of being labelled a Victorian prude, I suggest we turn a corner and become noticed for what we don't say. If you find yourself cussing up a cloud of random terms, here are a few reasons why you may want to try such an ambitious change of habit and teach your children likewise:

1. We communicate more clearly when we don't swear.

I recently had a conversation with an intelligent person who peppered her verbal thoughts with a repetition of her two favourite profanities. Listening to her I realized how our conversation could probably be ten percent shorter if she didn't swear. The cussing cluttered her otherwise interesting and insightful comments, and it impeded her ability to communicate effectively. Our brains have a hard time putting together the message when they are constantly filtering out needless expletives.

2. We may be inadvertently offending others.

If your immediate reaction is, "Well if they don't like it, *!#$ them!", move to point 4. If you're still here, ask yourself this: If I’m the guy in the elevator spewing obnoxious obscenities all the way up to the 43rd floor, who might be within earshot? A prospective client? The boss? Like it or not, others are judging us. Sometimes their verdicts can cost us a lot.

3. It's harassment.

Those verbal bombs you drop at work could be misinterpreted by others and even seen as harassment. Sexual and religious expletives may offend and get you into legal hot water. In the movies these expulsions of profanity are often met with few consequences or even laughs. However, in real life many workplaces have enforced rules on the use of obscenities, racial, religious and sexual slurs. Especially if you’re the clown who always itching to share a dirty joke -- keep it to yourself or you could end up without a job and perhaps even legal action.

4. It's prideful.

Ouch! Now that’s getting personal. But stop and think deeply about why you swear. Either it's a long-term habit you learned when you were young (that was my personal experience) or you do it because there's a reward. Maybe both reasons apply to you. If it's an embedded response you'd like to root out, move on to the final paragraphs. If it's because you think you're the life of the party, your reason to maintain your four-letter obsession may be rather selfish. While some people may find you funny, others may be chuckling awkwardly, and more may be downright uncomfortable. If cussing is part of maintaining a certain image, you might want to reconsider what your words are really saying about you.

How Do I Stop?

If you are wondering if this is a habit you can break, here’s a good test. Can you cut the cussing when you're around certain people, like your mother? If you can clean it up for her or your significant other, why not do it for everyone else as well. When I determined to quit swearing, I noticed I could hold my tongue in certain situations. This gave me the confidence I could expand my control. It also provided a clue as to who a good coach would be. If there's a person you change your speech to please, enlist them to help you stay in line.

Children are another great motivation to muzzle your language. They most certainly notice your cursing (and may have already started mimicking you). They are usually more than happy to remind mom or dad that they have used a bad word.

The Swear Jar is another oft-used tactic where a certain amount of money is deposited each time you use a coarse expletive. Or you might want to try this more positive twist: Have your kids, coach or significant other reward you when you've hit a milestone. At the beginning it may be for making it to lunch. Then dinner. Then an entire day. The rewards don't have to be money -- I'm sure you can think of a motivational idea that will move you forward.

I swear I didn't set out to write this post to make you feel bad. Quite the opposite. Like losing weight or quitting smoking, gaining control over our self is a satisfying accomplishment. People will look at you differently. You will see yourself differently. You will become a more precise communicator and you'll be better equipped to maintain your cool in a crisis situation.

For related articles on this topic see:
Has Cursing Become Too Commonplace?
Prolific Profanity
Not Just American Parents Are Heated Up Over Profanities
Los Angeles Times Film Critic Says "Please Watch Your Language"