How to stop swearing

When my partner said I was cursing too much, I decided to learn how to stop swearing.

How to stop swearing
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This story was first published in 2017. It was updated for clarity and accuracy in January 2024.

Look, I'm not here to judge. I have absolutely no problem with vulgar, profane, or otherwise obscene language. But when my partner said to me in 2015 that I was swearing "too much," I decided that I could do something about it.

All about the swears

I used to litter my speech with swear words. Again, not really a problem. That is unless you start to allow them to slip in at inappropriate times (like I did at a family-friendly event and I loudly bellowed f*ck) or if they degrade the quality of your speech and conversation.

Swearing definitely has its place, but it's better used as emphasis to a point rather than just casually dropped into speech. The main reason for curse words is to express an emotion but when you overuse it, the words become a rubber knife — completely useless.

Why drop the swears?

To be honest, the challenge. I was told that I had something of a problem, and I like the challenge of overcoming it. I do tend to to swing to the complete other direction though (I'll get to that in a minute).

Finding alternatives to curse words has been enormous fun too. Its creative - especially if you go the way of Joe Pesci in Home Alone. But aside from making up nonsense words to replace the cursing, learning new language has been exciting.

Step one: elastic therapy

So if you want to be able to stop or even minimise your swearing, you first need to be aware of when you do it. If you form a mindless habit then it will continue to happen until you recognise that you do it.

So my trick was to use the Elastic Band method detailed by Psychology Today. You wear an elastic band around your wrist. When you notice yourself about to swear or already sworn, then snap the band.

You get a slight pain on your wrist and helps associate the stinging pain with the action, but you'll start to become more aware of it too.

Step two: graphs, & other nerd stuff

I'm quite big into technology. So when I took on this challenge I knew that tech would help me somewhere. And I wasn't wrong. I found an app called TrackThisForMe which was a web app with an Android edition.

Unfortuntely, TTFM shut down, but Habitify is a great alternative for iPhone, Android, macOS, and web. It does pretty much what you think it would do; you set up categories that you wish to track and then the app will make a graph for you.

Now I had accountability. I could build up a streak of no-swear days but I always know the feeling of crushing disappointment if I slip up and swear, breaking my nice and neat zero line. Of course, mistakes happen, and it only took one particularly stressful driving episode to break a two-month streak.

No matter though — a one off, for sure. And so it turned out to be. 717 days later I haven't broken the streak (yet!).

Step three: learn, learn, repeat

Finding new and inventive ways to express emotion has been a creative challenge. But along with it I discovered a new appreciation for words. It can sound, well, to be honest, pretty nerdy to admit this but I enjoy browsing the dictionary looking for new words. And not curse words either.

Using the Dictionary.com app I have a morning notification for "Word of the Day." It's been fascinating to see such a range of language that I hadn't even known existed before. Having said that, I do actually only remember a handful of words from nearly two year's worth. My favourite though — one I even manage to use in conversation — is pandiculate, which means to stretch.

There is also the great website NoSwearing which is very similar to Urban Dictionary but only for curse words. You can look up to see if a word is on their naughty list, or even use their translate tool to turn a filthy sentence into a sparkling, family-friendly string of pleasantness.

A new beginning or an endless circle?

I'm at 717 days with no swearing. It feels like a great achievement for someone that used to swear literally more times than I could count in a day. The challenge has been fun, and it proved that actually I can reign in habits when I want to, which has taught me a lot about self-control.

I won't lie to you, though, my internal dialogue still talks with cursing. But the crucial part is that it doesn't make it past my filter and end up blurting out when it's least appropriate.

I'm sure that one day I'll stub my toe or something equally as minor and a (not-so) quiet expletive may erupt but until then I'm happy — you could even say content — with my no-swear streak.