This week, Timothy Jay added Nebraska coach Bo Pelini’s private-turned-public outburst to a list of expletive-laden rants from coaches, athletes, celebrities and other high-pressured professionals that he’s cataloged for years.
Jay is not a BuzzFeed reporter. He’s a psychology professor who is interested in the expletive-laden part.
Jay teaches at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and focuses much of his research on the study of cursing — a whole bleeping lot. He’s authored research papers and books with titles like “The Pragmatics of Swearing” and “Why We Cuss.” He is currently compiling research on 1- to 12-year-olds who, like Pelini, are being secretly recorded, but in day care and after-school care settings.
Here's a preview: They all know a curse word or three.
“I don’t think anybody that’s raised kids is surprised,” he said.
Jay, who is a faculty representative with MCLA’s athletics department, has also studied the relationship between curse words and sports in a number of ways. He has appeared in “Autumn Ritual,” an NFL Films production, to discuss the sailor-worthy language of the game, and how the right swear words at the right time can impact 300-pound football players.
“It’s part of getting people motivated,” Jay said. “You can’t have physical aggression without some type of verbal aggression.”
So when he heard Pelini’s f-laden recording, he wasn’t taken aback by the f’s. Regarding the recorded rant, Jay credited the coach for expressing his anger toward writers and fans in what he thought was a private moment away from the writers and fans.
“I think that whole episode, it’s kind of why we have swear words,” Jay said by phone from his North Adams, Mass., office. “We’re the only animal that can do that. We can say it rather than bite and scratch people.”
Swearing allows you to vent frustration without physically harming anyone, he said, and it’s a way that people can process an intense moment. He wrote in a research paper that swearing is like using a car horn. It can signify many different emotions — "e.g., anger, frustration, joy, surprise."
While the Pelini recording does not appear to signify joy, Jay, who grew up in Ohio when Woody Hayes coached Ohio State and occasionally punched people, said people should keep things in perspective when they get upset about someone using taboo language.
“I wish the Naval reservist would’ve swore instead of gotten a gun,” Jay said.