Cursing Really Does Alleviate Pain. But Would Made-Up Words Work Just as Well?

Pain medication Nurofen investigates

Ten years ago, a scientific study concluded that swearing actually helps alleviate pain in the short term. But would made-up, inoffensive "curse words" work just as well? 

Nurofen, the pain-relief brand, aided by McCann London, damn well found out in a new experiment led by Dr. Richard Stephens, who conducted the original @*!$ research in 2009. 

"A problem with swearing is that it's taboo—swearing in front of your kids or co-workers is often frowned upon," observes McCann senior creative William Cottam. "We wanted to see if you could create a new socially acceptable swear word with the same pain-relieving properties to use in your moment of need, until you can find something longer lasting—like Nurofen's products." 

A panel of experts coined two faux-fanities: "Fouch!" and "Twizpipe!" 

Now, we're temped to say they weren't trying very hard, but some of these people are scientists and lexicographers, and they seemed to really think things through, so let's just go with it. 

"One of the biggest challenges was coming up with alternative swear words to test," Cottam concedes, "ones that felt like swear words but didn't sound too much like profanities. 'Kunk,' for example, was considered too similar to the dreaded C-word and didn't make the cut." 

Next, volunteers submerged their hands in painfully cold ice water while shouting "Fouch!" and "Twizpipe!" Did they work just as well as swear words? Find out in the video below. 

"It seems that swearing has a strong emotional connection, and this is likely due to the circumstances in which we first hear swear words," says Stephens. "From a young age, we typically learn to associate them with high-stress situations and that they are forbidden. The study found that these strong sentiments cannot be mimicked by newly created swear words." 

During the experiment, "Professor Stephens asked the volunteers to choose a swear word they would normal revert to when stubbing a toe," Cottam recalls, "and we found that over 90 percent of participants used the word 'fuck,' which was really insightful." 

Stick with the classics, people.

The experiment had to be conducted behind closed doors to avoid skewing the results. 

"However, for filming purposes, we recreated the test with extras," Cottam says. "We found that with all the film crew on set and the cameras rolling, a lot of the volunteers were actually more determined to hold their hands in the ice water for longer. Especially one chap who had to be asked to stop because his hand was in for too long. Anything over 30 seconds is considered good going, yet he managed three minutes." 

Fouchin' awesome, dude! 

We could swear this client and agency have explored similar ground before... 


Creative Agency: McCann London
Chief Creative Officers: Rob Doubal & Laurence Thomson
Creative Directors: Rob Webster & Alexei Berwitz
Senior Creatives: William Cottam & James Crosby
Managing Partner: James Latham
Account Directors: Annabelle Black & Shaun Geary
Senior Project Manager: Chloe Lockett
Head of Strategy: Karen Crum
Communications Partner: Nick Kavanagh
Planning Director: Jonathan Brown
Senior Planner: Matilda Ruffle
Planner: Emily Ellis
Head of Art: Dan Howarth
Designers: Jonathan Harper & Matthew Thomas

Production Company: Craft London
Chief Production Officer MWG: Sergio Lopez
Head of Integrated Production: Sophie Chapman-Andrews
Executive Producer: Juan Torres
Producer: Duncan Groves
Director: Blake Claridge
Editor: Matt Dollings
Sound Engineer: Giselle Hall

Client: Nurofen
Marketing Director: Charlotte Schloesing
Category Manager: Luca Tamagni
Senior Brand Manager: Marcella Christophersen
Brand Manager: Kelly Green

Advertise With Us

Featured Clio Award Winner



The best in creativity delivered to your inbox every morning.