Many nurses and midwives are so adept at swearing that they can make truckies blush. Sailors and sportsmen gather at their feet to learn the fine art of uttering profanities.

There is, however, a small rightious subset of health professionals who are absolutely determined to take offence every time a patient gets a bit sweary.  These people seem to have no tolerance for the use of vulgar, foul language to express and relieve stress or pain.

There is emotional release to be had when uttering indecent or filthy words. The phenomenon of emotional release through swearing even has a name: “lalochezia” – a word formed from the Greek lalia (speech) and chezo (to relieve oneself). Sources 1 + 2 lalochezia


Words only have the power that we ascribe to them. As a judge sitting on cases regarding obscene language charges said, the use of swear words in Australia is very common in music, poetry, drama and literature, by ordinary people in the street, and by those in the corridors of power. The notion that they cause offence is an individual’s decision to react, not because of the rarity or harshness of the words themselves. Source 3.

Anyway, if we are fair dinkum about being patient-focused then swearing can be very useful. Swear words are great adjectives – think of them as something akin to the pain scale. Instead of using the ” 0 = no pain and 10 = worst pain imaginable” routine, some of our patients will use their own qualitative and quantitative pain scale. It might include descriptors like “no worries”, “a bit of an ache”, “painful”, “bloody painful”, “really bloody painful”, “bastard of an ache”, “as painful as fuck”, etc.

Maybe its those dopey “zero tolerance” signs (and the dopey attitudes they engender) that make some clinicians react to swear words as if they are weapons. As I have argued previously (see, we should have zero tolerance for zero tolerance and not spend so much time and effort trying to shut-down people from expressing their distress. Swearing not only communicates emotions but, as per the definition of “lalochezia”, acts as a pressure valve for those emotions. In clinical practice we should not be too quick to try turn off that pressure valve – it may prevent an explosion.

Suggested Further Reading Stone, T. E. and Hazelton, M. (2008), An overview of swearing and its impact on mental health nursing practice. International Journal of Mental Health Nursing, 17: 208–214. doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0349.2008.00532.x

Print (PDF version): LalocheziaPrint

End As always, comments are welcome.

Paul McNamara, 12th July 2014
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9 thoughts on “Lalochezia

    1. Paul McNamara Post author

      Yep, if we swear AT the patient (as opposed to “within earshot of” the patient) we are being unprofessional..

      We (the clinicians) are qualified + paid to help the person (patient) in distress.

      Fair ≠ same.


  1. Sophie

    I’m sorry but I do not agree. I find swearing offensive, and as a nurse I would not want to swear or hear other people (colleagues or patients) swearing. It is just not professional.


    1. Sophie

      I understand the need to release frustration but if a person wants to take out their frustration why can they not make up another word that does not have foul connotations? For example, my mother always says “sugar” quite forcefully when she is frustrated by something. It serves the same purpose but is not offensive.


      1. LH

        Sophie, firstly you seem judgemental and uptight. A perfect example of that “rightious subset of health professionals who are absolutely determined to take offence every time a patient gets a bit sweary”.

        Secondly, for those of us in the majority who aren’t afraid of swearing when it is done in a non-insulting context, it is an instinctive action. We cant simply substitute in a childish word like ‘sugar’ on a whim, especially not during moments of pain or distress. People who learn to use alternatives like ‘sugar’ are either raised without swearing from childhood, or deliberately and systematically train themselves to substitute the terms. Neither of which happen instantly in the way you are hoping for.

        I do hope you keep your personal opinions to yourself and don’t show any judgement or negativity towards patients who swear simply when venting their pain or distress and don’t do so in an abusive or insulting way towards staff.


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