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Swear to Tell the Truth...

nonverbal communication Dec 19, 2016

I grew up around some people who swore so fluently it almost became its own language. They could string them together as if they were prose. I didn't swear until I was 19, though, and I remember where I was when it happened.

In the lounge on my floor in the college dorm, my swear became a newsworthy event. People spilled out of the lounge laughing in surprise on their way to tell others. It was so unheard of that people stood up and took notice. And that can be a good thing at times.

Some conversations just need to be interrupted, and a well-timed swear coming from someone who doesn't swear in place of um's can be an effective way of getting people's attention. It's just unusual enough that someone might do a bit of a double take, wondering if they'd heard right and, if so, what warranted it. Pattern interrupts like that can be a great strategy at times. (I'm not saying it has to be a swear, just that it can be.)

A swear can also be a means of blowing off a little steam. Some people may have better ways of expressing themselves, but if another person chooses to blow off a little steam by swearing instead of using some other kind of violence, I'll accept the swearing as a good option. In fact, it may be sort of like a dog's growl, if you think about it.

A dog's growl is like a yellow light; it's their way of warning others around them. So, if a person were to not accept a growl, it could cause a dog's "light" to go from green to red, where red is biting with no (yellow) warning.

I believe that most people do give warnings, though, through nonverbal communication. They may not go off on a swearing tangent, but they may start swearing differently, among other subtle changes. If we are so repelled by swearing that we turn our back to it, we can't say there was no warning, just that we didn't notice it because we chose, instead, to be offended by or turned off by it or whatever other response we had to it instead of taking notice.

Does that seem to be verbal, if the change includes a swear where it normally would not? That's fair, but it's unlikely that a change in swearing pattern is going to be the first warning. There's probably going to be nonverbal communication changes that are subtle to the untrained eye and ear. And even a person who swears may demonstrate subtle changes before swearing changes. That's because the swear is really an expression of it, where nonverbal communication can be observed prior to the expression of it.

Not every swear is a warning, but a swear can be. And if we, as a society, shun swears, we essentially eliminate that choice. In its place, a person may reach for other less ideal options that stand to do a lot more than make a few sounds.

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