Believe it or not, there are still some people around who regard a certain category of words to be evil or immoral in some way. It’s known as ‘swearing’. I’ve found this a curious concept since I was a teenager, since not much about it made any sense to me. It’s all bollocks, of course: no word can have a moral bias. Nevertheless as a society we appear to love having this category of language which is only acceptable in certain circles and not in others.

Researchers at the University of East Anglia published a study today which claims that swearing at work boosts morale. What’s interesting about the study is that it confirms my central confusion about the whole idea that ‘swearing’ is something to be avoided:

“Employees use swearing on a continuous basis, but not necessarily in a negative, abusive manner. Swearing was as a social phenomenon to reflect solidarity and enhance group cohesiveness, or as a psychological phenomenon to release stress. Most of the cases were reported by employees at the lower levels of the organisational hierarchies and it was clear that executives use swearing language less frequently. The primary issue for management is whether or not to apply a tolerant leadership culture to the workplace and deliberately allow swearing.”

The study is clearly a challenge to the idea that swearing is a negative thing to be dodged by respectable, polite people. But perhaps an even more interesting question is this: will people always create ways to be offended?