Offensive language in the general hospital

Psychosomatics. 2010 Sep-Oct;51(5):377-85. doi: 10.1176/appi.psy.51.5.377.


Background: Offensive language (spoken by medical staff and by patients and their families) is often heard in the general hospital, but its manifestations and clinical implications have not been previously examined.

Objective: The authors sought to facilitate an understanding of the effects and treatment of offensive utterances and their downstream consequences.

Method: The authors present a sampling of clinical vignettes that illustrate a variety of examples of hospital-based events in which offensive language was used and discuss differential diagnoses and management strategies.

Results: Swearing can also be used as a psychological tool in the service of helping. Swearing may provide a channel of catharsis for aggressive drives and affects that have been building in either the doctor or the patient.

Discussion: Placing offensive behaviors, for example, use of profane language, in a biopsychosocial context can facilitate an understanding of the causes, effects, and treatment of these events.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aggression / psychology*
  • Hospitals*
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Mental Disorders / psychology*
  • Psycholinguistics
  • Verbal Behavior*