Do curse words regularly fly out of your mouth? Don’t be hard on yourself. Swearing can be cathartic — and Heaven knows, runners need to let off a bit of verbal steam when the outcome of races prove less than ideal.

Let’s take this opportunity to celebrate the English Language Day, and show our respect for the history, culture and achievements of the “world language”. Knowing a bit about why the urge to let loose with choice expletives could put your mind at ease, because knowledge is power and like most runners, you welcome journeys of self-exploration.

One thing’s for sure: after you read this, you’ll probably never think about swearing the same way again.

Why do you blurt out swear words?

In a nutshell, because they make you feel better, according to a body of psychologists who have made this topic their life’s work. There’s even a taxonomy of swear words, according to the authority on cursing analyses, Dr. Timothy Jay. Your vocabulary may include sexual references, animal names, slurs, ancestral references, vulgar idioms, scatological terms and disgusting epithets.

The choices we make when we let loose these words often depends upon what we heard growing up and the social settings in which we move, some of which can render these utterances perfectly acceptable. As humans, we make choices about what we say and you’ve probably noticed that those choices have become more and more diverse as once-unacceptable words go mainstream.

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Why do runners swear?

Because competitive people tend to be “wired” in unique ways. During activities tied to physical fitness, you may experience anger, surprise and frustration regularly and these are the three stress triggers that most often lead to cursing.

That stated, the cathartic element referenced earlier in this article can free a runner from those negative feelings and in many instances, a delicate balance of physiological and psychological factors merge as the use of curse words bring you back to centre after hitting emotional extremes.

Further, camaraderie, an important social factor on the running scene, is enhanced by commonly-shared interactions that shape bonds, so when you get a positive reaction to an off-colour joke shared with fellow runners, it feels good.

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What does science say?

Dr. Jay’s research is so precise, we can even tell you how often an average person delivers a swear word: between 0.3-percent and 0.7-percent of the time we spend conversing with others. Need a comparison? Regardless of the society, people use personal pronouns at a rate of 1.0-percent. What separates the biggest swearers from those who utter fewer expletives? Personality traits that can be associated with runners, like Type A personalities, competitive sorts and extroverts.

Some people are perfectly comfortable cursing non-stop while others may not approve of their own propensity for swearing, but this news should make you feel better: according to a Marie Claire magazine article, this headline says it all: “Do You Swear A Lot? Good News: You’re More Intelligent Than Your Polite Friends.

But maybe you want to change your ways

If, for one reason or another, you have decided to reform, we’d like to give you help in the form of a glossary offering respectable substitutes for the swear words that may be part of your current vocabulary, so feel free to exchange these socially-acceptable words for the not-so acceptable ones.

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

Asshole: Of course he’s a jerk. He sped past you at the 5km mark and claimed he would beat you to the finish line. Want to sound spiritual? Substitute with “Angel Soul” It’s as powerful, but sounds much nicer.

Bitch: Did your mum raise you to call fellow runners the B word? We don’t think so. If you’re not referring to female dogs, foxes, otters or wolves – use “Beach” instead and neutralize a potential argument immediately.

Fag: Since sexual barriers are collapsing regularly in today’s society, letting loose with this 3-letter F word can invoke the ire of the gay community, but if you substitute “flag” for fag, you could be called patriotic.”

Crap: Short. Highly descriptive. Yet another word with origins in the loo, crap is not a word your mum may approve of, so replace it with “Crop” and she’ll think you’re waxing poetic about Singapore agriculture.

Damn: It’s easy to make a substitution to sound creative, thus yelling “Ding” instead. Feel free to use the descriptor as frequently as you like, whether referring to someone else or yourself.

Eat me: Such innocent words. Individually, that is. Refine your image by substituting “Meat Me” and the person you’re insulting could think this is a benign invitation to dine.

F*** You: The F bomb is dropped so often, its shock value has dissipated, but it still offends, so turn FY on its head by using “Luck You”! An adversary might think you’re wishing him well at the start line.

G** damn: Adding a holy prefix to the standard curse adds bravado, but you could tick off people who are religious, so substitute with, “Hot Man!” and you’ll sound downright enthusiastic.

Hell: Hell is where bad souls go; not the place to send a mate who accidentally dropped a free weight on your toe. Replace Hell with “Heck” or send adversaries to “Hail.” The weather-related term won’t raise an eyebrow.

Idiot: Does the word Idiot offend? It can, so feel free to invoke its original version, “Ignoramus.” That’s a fancy way of saying idiot that sounds important and not everybody will have a clue that you’re name calling.

Jerk: It’s great word to invoke when braggarts boast about PBs, but why gain the reputation of being a name caller when you can holler “Jam” instead? Bystanders are likely to assume that you’re hungry.

MotherF’er: Mums are best left off limits, but if you’re so mad, no other curse will do, try using “Nutter Butter.” The U.S. cookie brand name makes a great substitute when insulting someone with a biscuit for a brain.

Shit: The mother lode of excrement derivatives is appropriate in so many situations, it sits atop most profanity word lists. Need a replacement? The most logical is “Sit,” but make sure there are no well-trained dogs around.

Is profanity part of your personality and a way to blow off steam, or have you found a way to avoid being a “potty-mouth”? If so, how did you manage to reform your ways?

Nathan Lin

Nathaniel is a certified personal trainer from Hong Kong and holds a master’s degree in psychology and exercise physiology. As a columnist for RunSociety, he aims to provide the readers with the information they need to make educated and informed health and fitness decisions, yet often adding in his funny observations.

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