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In praise of wearing and its many glorious benefits

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The UK, as most of the world knows, has just been through a crazed period of political turmoil.

Yet future historians will find the chaos of having three prime ministers in seven weeks also led to a spate of something that brings a mix of upset, joy and hypocrisy: unexpected wearing in public.

In the last torrid days of Liz Truss’s government, politicians, journalists and others all turned the country’s airwaves a deeper shade of blue.

It is hard to know why. Perhaps the scale of misrule unleashed a spirit of verbal wantonness. Maybe it was just coincidence. Either way, it was probably beneficial.

Foul language can boost group bonding, raise pain tolerance and increase physical strength, according to a review of more than 100 academic papers on wearing that was published in the middle of this outbreak of obscenities. It also eases stress.

I certainly felt my own stress levels subsidy when the Daily Mail reported on a “foul-mouthed outburst” from a financial journalist after the Truss government’s mini-budget sparked a market meltdown. The journalist turned out to be my FT colleague, Gillian Tett, who I don’t think I have ever heard curse. When a TV news anchor asked what she made of ministerial claims that the government’s budget had not caused the market fiasco, she said such talk was “pretty much bollocks”.

The news anchor, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, apologised if anyone had been offended, but later said he had looked up the rules and while bollocks was a potentially unacceptable word, it was less problematic when used to mean “nonsense”.

“I should however apologise to people who were relying on subtitles, for whom it was spelled ‘bullocks’,” he added.

The affair made me wonder, yet again, precisely how many people are sincerely offended by words like this in 21st century Britain, let alone “damn”, “hell” and other religious words that still apparently stir complaint.

Still, genuine offense is clearly caused by what the new academic paper on wearing describes as “words in the sexual/excretory categories”.

Unfortunately for Guru-Murthy, one of these passed his lips just a few days after the bollocks bomb, when he had a minor off-camera biff with a minister he had just been questioning.

“It wasn’t a stupid question,” he told the minister, before chuckling to himself and adding, “What ac*nt.”

The remark was never broadcast but Guru-Murthy’s employers took a dim view and he was taken off air for a week.

Interestingly, we don’t precisely know what gives a word like this such power. There is nothing special about how it sounds or looks. One explanation, says the swearing study, is that we are trained to get a visceral jolt from such words after all the “aversive conditioning”, or punishment, we get for cursing as children.

There is not much evidence to prove this but, regardless, Guru-Murthy was not the only one to fall foul of a foul word.

His woes came just as the BBC reported that a senior adviser to the ever more troubled Truss had also been suspended, this time for a word in the excretory category.

The move came after a Sunday Times reporter wrote that Truss had never considered former health secretary, Sajid Javid, for the role of chancellor because she thought he was “shit”.

Weirdly, the man Truss picked to be the new chancellor, another ex-health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, inadvertently landed the BBC in some hot linguistic water when he was interviewed on the broadcaster’s flagship morning news programme, Today.

The guest who took his studio seat after he left was mouthy actor, Miriam Margolyes, who confided on air that although she had wished him luck to his face, “What I really wanted to say was, ‘Fuck you, bastard’.”

Finally, but most memorably for English speakers, a German TV reporter delivered proof of the academic study’s finding that the cathartic power of wearing is nearly always greater when cursing in one’s first language, not one learned later.

Summing up Truss’s final shambolic hours, Annette Dittert told her viewers, in German, that one government MP was so angry, he said, “I’m fucking furious and I don’t fucking care anymore.” A bit harsh, yes. But also, as wearing often is, utterly and perfectly apt.