9 Reasons Dirty Words Work So Darn Well

Posted on by admin | in longhorn

Language is a powerful thing, and our ability to express a thought is directly linked to the number of words we have at our command with which to say it. If there’s any truth to the saying that the pen is mightier than the sword, then surely some words give the pen a sharper edge than do others. Take the title of this article, for instance. It almost seems to contradict itself; or perhaps it serves to confirm its own premise, albeit indirectly.

Whether out of consideration for the sensibilities of the reader, or through a belief that profanity demonstrates a weakness of character, limited vocabulary or outright unprofessional behavior, some regard the public use of such language as taboo. But it works. We know it works by the way it affects us, don’t we? Why does it affect us, and how does it work exactly? Let’s take a look at 9 reasons why dirty words work so damn well:

  • As Punctuation: Honestly, is it any less offensive or unprofessional to tack on a silly emoticon to a statement in order to convey one’s feeling as opposed to using a little colorful language?  

Ex: “I think you’re lying to me.” 🙁
You’re completely full of s***.”

  • Added Authenticity: Have you ever watched a syndicated program on a network with more stringent standards than the original one, such as The Sopranos on A&E? Consider the credibility of dialogue like this:

Tony: Take this fellow out back and show him what for.
Paulie: I shall be glad to oblige, good sir. 


Tony: Get this scumbag outta here and blow his f***ing brains out.
Paulie: My f***ing pleasure, boss.

  •  Elicit Reaction: Off-color language strikes a nerve, forcing a response. Revulsion, objection, or otherwise, the truth is that it has shock value that some find irresistible. In online writing, views and comments weigh heavily in the formula for success. Such tactics, like it or not, will as often as not get more of both.
  • Implied Honesty: In a sense, the use of strong language is often interpreted by the reader as being indicative of the writer’s sincerity and openness. A willingness to transcend the bounds of what is considered tactfulness in order to share a thought says to some,  Hey, this writer really tells it like it is, and doesn’t pull any punches. This dovetails with a similar response from the reader, namely …
  • Implied Intimacy: Using language traditionally thought of as inappropriate in mixed company says, This writer is confiding in me. I feel closer to her/him because we share this level of intimacy. An unspoken bonding takes place that can garner loyalty from such readers.
  • Setting the Tone: For emotionally-charged subject matter, it’s sometimes a useful means to rally the troops. Sure, an eloquent argument isn’t dependent on dirty words to be effective. But let’s face it, when the goal is a visceral response, a call to action, depending on your audience sometimes it’s more expedient to be Abby Hoffman than Winston Churchill.
  • Notoriety: An old saying in PR is There’s no such thing as bad publicity. Salty language may not have the same level of shock value as in times past, but in the crowded field of the  blogosphere, anything that can gain attention and a reputation is fair game to some.
  • Clean = Sanitized: There is a subtext to content that’s been swept clean of dirty language, and it goes something like this: If those words were edited out, how much of what’s left in the content is original and accurate information?
  • Freedom of Speech – There are few things that can galvanize writers and readers alike more quickly and resolutely than the specter of censorship. Ever since its inception, the internet has been all about freedom and accessibility. For many, dirty language is an affirmation of that freedom, and thereby forms a bond between writer and reader.

None of this is intended to condone foul language as a substitute for original, thoughtful discourse. Dirty words for their own sake will more often detract from the message than advance it. Nevertheless, all language has its place and usefulness in the hands of a competent writer.


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