“Life is a four-letter word.” (Lenny Bruce)
One of the most influential memories from childhood involves my brother getting his mouth washed out with soap for uttering a swear word. I can’t recall the specific word, but I do remember the gagging, amidst promises never to repeat the offense. I was certainly careful to keep my own language G-rated in front of my mom after that disturbing event!
Truth be told, my language of late could merit some soap; and, I’m not alone. It seems that society today accepts, or at least tolerates, a certain level of profanity. When it comes to our kids and cussing, we often adopt a “do as I say, not as I do” attitude.
Is swearing at work no big deal? Or, does it mark you as a person who is not in control? I like the Evil HR Lady’s take on four-letter words in the CBS blog post called Swearing at Work. She says:
“Someone will argue that using swear words just shows who they really are; and, if you tell them to stop it, you’re suppressing their personality and creativity. I say any 13 year old can say dirty words; and, if you want to demonstrate your individuality and creativity, try saying something different.”
So why do I occasionally slip and use bad language? Sometimes I think it makes me feel better. It’s mildly cathartic. I also think it’s my way of saying, “I am really, really upset; so, pay attention!”
I wonder if I also subconsciously think letting a few expletives fly makes me more colorful and interesting – sort of the “bad girl” persona that contrasts with my solidly boring, Midwestern self. (In my own defense, I should note that I really don’t use bad language in a hurtful way – at least I certainly hope I don’t!)
All excuses aside, swearing isn’t really attractive or necessary to explain the amplitude of my feelings. It’s a lazy way to blow off some steam or be expressive. When choosing my words going forward, I vow to choose carefully. I will remember the wise words of the Evil HR Lady who said, “I have never heard anyone say, ‘Gee, I just love Bill’s foul mouth.'”
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In my past working life I had a Boss who believed that I was in need of changing my words when expressing my dissatisfaction with performance or people. He know that I held myself to a high level of accountablity and that performance was at a high level but my swearing or use of colorful languages only held me back from being promoted. It was very hard to move from using to not using the colorful words. However now that I have made the change and I am around a individual who does I understand completely he was helping me become a stronger Manager.
I have always considered swear words as FAT words. A little fat adds flavor, a lot of fat is hard to chew and swallow. I prefer lean cuts of meat and challenge people to develop their thoughts to deliver a clear, concise (lean) message and leave the fat on the platter.
I’m of the mind that a well-placed and delivered cuss word can amplify and clarify a message. Swearing every day in every way isn’t necessary; and those who find it necessary can become boring as their expletives become commonplace and demonstrate a lack of vocabulary. And yet, when I stub my toe you might think that a fishmonger’s wife has taken control of my mind and my mouth…somehow it makes the pain go away 🙂
There are gradations of offensive language, from the often – perhaps reluctantly – accepted to barely tolerated to simply unacceptable. Unfortunately people, often in high places, do not seem to make any distinction. There is reason to believe that such language is used for effect and, unfortunately, too frequently, to intimidate. That has become more evident particularly among young people. The family and society have to share a good deal of the responsibility for this situation and the answer therefore largely lies in their hands. Workplaces have been more active in creating environments where such language is not acceptable but example is always a good teacher.
Steve Tobak of CBS News MoneyWatch blog weighs in on swearing at work:
Another CEO with a potty mouth.
Is he passionate or out of line?