Cursing and Swearing at Work

Gender-neutral pronouns are the rage today in the language world.   Hir, Mx, They are all in the mix of new pronouns to avoid gender discrimination.  It’s enough to make a traditionalist start swearing.  Wait.  Swearing is a hot issue too, especially in the workplace.

The trend toward acceptable use all started with Bob Sutton’s best selling business book, “The No A**hole Rule”.  Everyone knows Bob was not referring to the anatomy but a kind of behavior.  Then there is the best selling, “Go the F**k to Sleep”, by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortes.  There is little doubt on what the mystery word is and this is a children’s book.  The authors are using the F word like an exclamation point, nothing more.  Then there is the book, “Stop Tweeting Boring Sh#t”.  In this case, the curse is being used to describe content, nothing more.

WTFWhen the three letters WT and F are strung together, everyone knows just what the messenger is trying to convey.  WTF can be used as both an exclamation point and a question.  The three letters have become ubiquitous and can be found on post-it notes and nearly all office supplies that can be embossed.

The question remains, as the standards for cursing grow more lax, what is appropriate for the workplace?  We all know what words are way off limits and should never ever be used.  And we all know that some people are just not comfortable with profanity flying around.  Make that most people.  A general rule to follow is the TV rule.  If the word can be said on network TV, it’s ok to use at work.  Depending on the rating, what is said in the movies is probably not ok.  What you hear in the pub, or the soccer field or at the comedy club is not ok.

Having said that, there are some workplaces where the entire crew swears like a bunch of drunken sailors every day.  The culture in these places can be akin to a fraternity house.  These are often the same places where those who do not curse feel unwelcome.  Cursing can set the culture in many ways.

If your boss uses curses all the time, that doesn’t give you permission to do the same.  If co-workers are flinging around the words your Mom told you to never use, think of your Mom and what she would say.  In fact, before you enter into so many other behaviors at work, think of what your Mom would say.  It’s a generally good rule.

Most workplaces are somewhere between the fraternity house and the church when it comes to curse words.  In most places an occasional F-Bomb or Sh#t will pop out in celebration or disgust.  That’s the thing about cursing; the words can be used in so many ways and in so many contexts that they can be both efficient and effective.

There are times when no other possible word can capture the situation more than a curse and you are entitled to that extravagance but don’t make it a habit.  Cursing can be a curse on your career.

What do you find acceptable in the workplace?

Original article appeared in Linkedin Pulse by 

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