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Does swearing help?
Cold Water Swimming,  EXTRA,  FEATURES,  January 2023

Does swearing help in cold water?

Do you turn the air blue when you swim in cold water? Studies reveal that swearing can actually help relieve the discomfort!

How do you enter the water when the water temperature plummets to single figures? Are you a faffer, a screamer or a swearer?

If the air turns blue as you submerge yourself, then you aren’t just a potty mouth, you are also confirming scientific research that suggests that swearing can help relieve pain.

There have been a number of studies into the effect of swearing on the relief of pain – and interestingly the method used to inflict pain on the volunteers in the studies was immersion of their hands in icy water.

Verbal pain relief

A study carried out by Richard Stephens and two colleagues at Keele University won the 2010 Ig Nobel Peace Prize for confirming the widely held belief that swearing relieves pain.

Richards recorded the reactions of 67 students as they plunged their hands into buckets of icy water; some students were instructed to swear like troopers, others to repeat a neutral word.

The foul-mouthed students said they experienced less pain and were also able to leave their hands in the ice about 40 seconds longer than when they weren’t cussing.

It is suggested that swearing in response to pain activates the flight-or-fight response, triggering a boost of adrenaline.

Twizpipe, that’s cold!

Richards undertook a second study in 2020, this time introducing two made-up swear words (“twizpipe” and “fouch”) to assess the “hypoalgesic effects of novel ‘swear’ words” against the effects of “fuck.”

Using the same method of pain delivery, Richards discovered that participants who dropped the F-bomb had a 32% increase in pain threshold and a 33% increase in pain tolerance.

Those who used the made-up swear words recorded no increase in pain threshold or tolerance.

So, next time you go for a cold dunk, don’t say “clucking bell”. Just go for the real thing.

This article is from the January 2023 issue of Outdoor Swimmer. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Read more advice about cold-water swimming.

To see all the online content from the January 2023 issue of Outdoor Swimmer, visit the 'Rest & Reflection' page.
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Outdoor Swimmer is the magazine for outdoor swimmers by outdoor swimmers. We write about fabulous wild swimming locations, amazing swim challenges, swim training advice and swimming gear reviews.