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F U: Why Swearing in Poker is Good For You
Just about the most popular shirt you see around these days has FCUK emblazoned across the front.
There isn't a soul this side of a two-year-old minister's daughter who doesn't know how to flip those letters.
Yet if you do, and someone is offended by it, you may find some defender of the laws of 'decent folks' writing you a ticket for "disorderly conduct."
We all know this is just f*ck*d up b*ll sh*t --- but we can't really say it.
And, anyway, as Mike Matusow has found out at the poker table, repeated offenses get you repeated fines - up to 10 minutes per F-bomb even.
It isn't just poker rooms, bars or other hang-outs of the young and restless that swearing dominates conversations.
Ever look at the transcripts of the tapes Richard Nixon secretly made of the lofty deliberations in the White House? I have.
They're not easy to read. Indeed, it's tough to figure out what Tricky Dick was saying at all because essentially every other word was "expletive deleted."
Swearing is Fundamental
Swearing is a fundamental feature of human talk.
President Obama noted that Mother's Day had an odd ring to it for Rahm Emanuel, his chief of staff, because "Rahm isn't used to hearing the word 'day' follow 'mother.'"
If you take a quick look back at the history of languages and how they've changed, you'll find that every generation has its 'cuss' words. And they change.
'Bitch' and 'bastard' originally referred respectively, and rather benignly, to a 'female dog' and a 'person born out of wedlock.' They slowly wended their way into use as effective insults.
As such, they functioned as words that 'offended' others - which is sufficient to have them fall under some loosely structured disorderly conduct laws.
Consequently, they were 'banned' from the airwaves in the US as unsuitable for the ears of 'decent folk.'
Nowadays, bitch and bastard have become so common they've lost much of their affect.
They're barely offensive and hardly insults - and are printed with vowels rather than asterisks.
The only TV show where you won't hear them is Sesame Street.
Why All Societies Have Swear Words
Ever wonder about cursing? Why it's linguistically universal? Why all societies have swear words?
Universality alerts psychologists to the possibility that we've stumbled on something fairly deep.
Much of the early research on swearing wasn't very illuminating, since it tended to be clothed with concerns about morals and ethical conduct.
But Timothy Jay, a psychologist at the Massachusetts College of the Liberal Arts has carried out some research that cuts through all the trivia and gets right to the heart of the matter:
Cursing is good for you!
Yup. It turns out that swearing has real and important psychological functions.
Its immediate impact is to lessen tensions and release frustrations.
When you're really pissed (note, not 'p*ssed') when some donk-brain sucks out on you on the cash bubble, it's psychologically uplifting to let loose with a couple of juicy 'expletive deleteds.'
There is, in addition, a secondary gain of even more significance (from the point of view of smoothing social interactions) --- the release of tension also makes it less likely that you'll resort to physical abuse.
And, as we know, when a particular behavior makes you feel better, it's a psychological certainty that it will become an action deeply ingrained and oft-repeated.
Empty Swearing Hurts No One
So, is there a poker message here? Sure. And interestingly, the WSOP has figured it out. "Empty" swearing, venting, is okay.
It's no longer a violation to hurl a "WTF" when the one-outer hits the board.
But it's still a violation to turn to the guy who slurped out on you and call him a "dumb mother f*ck*r" ... and it should be.
The offense isn't in the sound of the words; it's in the intentions of the speaker to harm another.
The real crime is "verbal assault." This is where the "indecent" element comes in.
I'm a big fan of what I guess we call "directionless" cursing.
It can be an art form, a way to express political and social ideas, a device for exploring the edges of meaning.
And now it turns out that it can actually make you feel better. Or play better.
I feel better already.
Arthur Reber has been a poker player and serious handicapper of thoroughbred horses for four decades. He is the author of 'The New Gambler's Bible and coauthor of Gambling for Dummies'.
His new book 'Poker, Life and Other Confusing Things' from ConJelCo Publishing was just released and is available on Amazon.com.
Formerly a regular columnist for Poker Pro Magazine and Fun 'N' Games magazine, he has also contributed to Card Player (with Lou Krieger), Poker Digest, Casino Player, Strictly Slots and Titan Poker. He outlined a new framework for evaluating the ethical and moral issues that emerge in gambling for an invited address to the International Conference of Gaming and Risk Taking.
Until recently he was the Broeklundian Professor of Psychology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York.
Among his various visiting professorships was a Fulbright fellowship at the University of Innsbruck, Austria. Now semi-retired, Reber is a visiting scholar at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.
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