I have observed a good number of people muttering "fuckfuckfuck" under their breath when nervous. It somehow seems to vent the frustration out, and calm the person down. Why does this happen?

I found a few articles such as this that describe how saying the word triggers parts of our brains and all that. But is there a any linguistic reason?

I have noticed that saying euphemisms such as "heck" or "fudge" also helps, but not as much as the f-word itself. Does this have something to do with the combination of a fricative and a velar plosive?

  • 3
    Does 'hell' help at all for you? If it helps, then the fricatives and plosives can't be the only relevant factor. Jun 4, 2018 at 7:29
  • It does. There are a lot of such words that help, I am sure. But I have specific questions about this word.
    – loudmummer
    Jun 4, 2018 at 7:31
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    Well, it's not a phenomenon specific to this word. We know that strongly tabooed words in general help vent strong emotion, IIRC from my undergrad. More literature on that could make a good answer. Another interesting question that overlaps more with your intended one might be whether there are phonological patterns to tabooed words, particularly those used to vent. (e.g. heck, shit, fuck are all one syllable with a short vowel moving from a voiceless fricative to a voiceless plosive. But I suspect counterexamples would defeat most patterns we could spot, and to that I say, tabernac'!) Jun 4, 2018 at 13:05
  • Hmm, but if something like hooyada is a swear word, then I guess our pattern is restricted to a subset of English words.
    – loudmummer
    Jun 5, 2018 at 3:51

1 Answer 1


It is reported in research by Stephens, Atkins & Kingston and Stephens & Umland that swearing alleviates pain. At present it's a mystery why, but one chain of reasoning is that it results in release of adrenaline, because swearing triggers a fight-or-flight response. It has nothing to do with the phonetic shape of the word (did you know that hooyada was is a swear? Not in English). Some uses may be quasi-conventionalized, especially the triplicated ones. S*3, F*3 crap*3 are relatively common in some (younger) circles, damn*3 maybe, but I've never heard C*3,B*3, MF*3, CS*3 or SOB*3. There may be an articulatory underpinning to the low or zero frequency of B*3, and length is no doubt at work in the fact that you don't triplicate SOB.

  • What is cs*3? Most of the others I could just about make out. And are you able to elaborate on hooyada? Jun 6, 2018 at 19:26
  • cs=cock sucker. Hooyada is Somali, meaning "your mother" and was is a verb in the imperative. Uttering just the noun may have a similar effect, I've been told.
    – user6726
    Jun 6, 2018 at 19:52

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