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F U: Why Swearing in Poker is Good For You

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." You say mother, I say day.

Swearing is Fundamental to Humans

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You say mother, I say day.

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

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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 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.

Related Poker Strategy Articles:

Author Bio:

Arthur Reber has been a poker player and serious handicapper of thoroughbred horses for four decades. He's 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.

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All Poker News
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

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.

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

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!

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

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?

2009-10-23 00:53:00

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

2009-08-20 19:09:00
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.


2009-08-10 07:50:00

If you want a complete donkey to swear at, come find me. I am running like god, poker is not about skill it’s about magic luck. I learnt this game yesterday and now have made $53. Next month I will make $500 then next year millionaire. Jajaja, stephy 916 is here

2009-08-09 15:06:00

Fuck me, this article is good!

2009-08-08 10:17:00

What I find interesting is where the line is between what you can and cannot call someone. If you call someone ‘Motherf***er’ that’s not ok, but what about ‘idiot’? And what about words that are only used in poker such as ‘fish’ or ‘donk’?

And what about how you say it? A soft ‘motherf***er’can’t be as bad as when Tony G trash-talked this Russian player (see youtube), even if he never used foul language.

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