F U: Why Swearing in Poker is Good For You

Mike Matusow
The Mouth has sat out an orbit or two for his psychological well-being.

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."

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You say mother, I say day.

Swearing is Fundamental to Humans

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.

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Why All Societies Have Swear Words

Ever wonder about cursing? Why it's linguistically universal? Why all societies have swear words?

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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 behaviour makes you feel better, it's a psychological certainty that it will become an action deeply ingrained and oft-repeated.

Related Reading:

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.

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Author Bio:

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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rick 2011-10-09 18:48:22

FCUK does not mean what the author says it does....it means French Connection United Kingdom....a worldwide clothing line...and my first paying job ever..32 yrs ago

DrawBloodPoker 2011-06-30 20:35:31

If you win a pot never swear at the person you beat.If your are a man, never swear if a woman is in the game.If you are in a game that you will never be in again, if you swear not the end of you.

Darryl 2011-02-28 17:15:30

I thought that the article was great, I guess my son of 3 will make a great poker player with the mouth that he has.hahahahah

PokerListings.com 2011-02-07 20:43:36

@Marty @isda

Point taken and you're in luck. We've got a new strategy series starting later this month.

We're doing a collaborative project with Cardrunners and we'll have ten articles by ten different coaches, going up every two weeks.

Keep an eye on the blog this week for a topic list and a heads-up on when the first one's going up.

Thanks for reading!

Marty 2011-02-07 13:36:18

Got to agree with isda...

I used to love the strategy articles and they really helped me learn the game... but I haven't seen a new one for ages... still read the blog sometimes though

isda 2011-02-04 16:19:22

You guys are just republishing old articles which may not be applicable anymore. What happened to this site? No more writers, or no more money to pay for contributors?

str8flushin1 2009-10-23 00:53:00

**** ******* ****** **** *** ******* ***** **** you *** ******** **** m***** f*****!

The_Outlaw 2009-08-20 19:09:00

F@#cking A!!

grilldoggy 2009-08-20 18:25:00

I like this f***ing article. Well done.

Dennis Hands 2009-08-17 13:28:00


Thank you for the laugh. I think you are a brilliant writer.


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