I have been a certified potty mouth my entire life. I dropped my first official F-bomb in fourth grade, playing basketball on the asphalt playground during recess at my Catholic school. Then, I never stopped. Most people who know me well, know me for my eloquent swearing. I have even been told that when I swear, it doesn’t sound offensive. I guess I’ll take that as a compliment. Anyway, although I was unaware prior to entering the profession, my foul mouth fit fairly well into the healthcare scene. That being said, the following information about why nurses (or all healthcare workers) swear is not said without a disclosure.
Before continuing, it is important to note that context is everything. People who swear need to be good at their jobs, never swear to isolate others, or create/perpetuate a negative, angry environment. Sexist and racial slurs are absolutely never tolerated and swearing directly toward another individual is out of line. An eloquent swearer never swears in front of patients, families, on an interview, in front of children, or around an unfamiliar audience. And never forget, swearing is actually illegal in certain cultures and could be deemed extremely offensive by some. I do not promote or denounce swearing in healthcare, it just is what it is. With that out of the way, let’s explore reasons why nurses swear.
Swearing can be mistakenly perceived as a sign of ignorance. However, recent studies have deduced that swearing can be a sign of intelligence. The breath of your swearing vocabulary is directly linked to the size of your overall vocabulary. For a fun time, count how many swear words you can think of in one minute (I had 32). According to this study, the more swear words you can come up with, the more fluent you are with language. Meaning, swearing might be a sign of an articulate speaker and expert communicator. I happen to think I work with some of the most intelligent people in existence, therefore, the trend of swearing would be no surprise to me.
Emotionally Intense Environment
Healthcare is emotionally intense and most would agree, there is nothing quite like it. On a daily basis, some nurses may witness death, abuse, rape, mental breaks, and suffering. In these instances, swearing can become cathartic because studies have shown that intense emotions actually evoke swearing. Studies have also shown that swearing can serve to release us of physical and emotional pain, as well as, feelings of frustration and anger. When a patient is shot or raped, sometimes asking aloud, “What kind of sick f**k would do this?” helps people in healthcare cope with the moment.
Honesty and Humor
As it was no surprise to me, nursing was once again, ranked the most ethical profession in the U.S. I have always said, if you want to know the “down and dirty,” ask the nurse – we won’t lie. It turns out people who swear are more likely to be honest and authentic people. Hence, there is far less filtering coming out of the mouth of a swearer, perhaps the filtering blurs the truth on occasion. Regarding humor, I think we all can agree, if you do not have a sense of humor, healthcare is not the place for you. People who swear tend to be funny, and nothing spices up a story like expertly concocted and placed f-bombs.
There you have it. Nurses and other healthcare professionals tend to be well versed in “potty mouth.” Take it or leave it, but frankly, we do give a d**m or two.