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The Swear Jar

“Only I didn’t say ‘Fudge.’ I said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the ‘F-dash-dash-dash’ word!”

Researchers from the school of psychology at Britain’s Keele University recanted generations of grade school lessons this week as they unveiled findings on famous four-letter words (along with other nefarious notables); as it turns out, invoking profanities provides genuine physical relief from pain.

The study split a sample of 128 subjects; while both groups were asked to hold a hand in a tub of ice water for as long as possible, only one group was given a go-ahead to curse through the course.

The profanity population prevailed, thus proving a link between swearing and an increase in pain tolerance.

But beware the baseless blasphemy. In the study, swearing stymied the perception of pain more strongly in women than in men. According to Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker, this phenomenon may be attributed to the fact men swear more than women in daily life – which may have the sad side effect of dulling the dose of the painkiller: “[For women] I suspect that swearing retains more of an emotional punch because it has not been overused.”

While the findings verify the virility of vernacular, they also raise a red flag with regard to repetition. In an age of multi-million dollar ad campaigns, when marketers strive to make the most of their media buys by playing the same spot on repeat, is it possible overuse is undoing their primary point? By hammering home the message (and again, and again), are advertisers actually muting their meaning?

As we salute the swear jars standing on counters around the world, let us focus on another four letter word as we head into the weekend: happy FUNK ya’ll.

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