Swearing at Work May Actually Be a Good Thing -- No $%#@!?

Swearing at Work Want to know how much the times they are a-changin'? Consider this: back in 1939, in the movie 'Gone With the Wind,' Rhett Butler (Clark Gable) turned to Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh) and said those infamous words, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." The single utterance of one word -- "damn," considered "profane" by the Hollywood Production Code Commission -- cost producer David Selznick $5,000, a tidy sum in those days.

Fast forward to 2010. President Barack Obama is on national television commenting on the massive Gulf oil spill. Expressing his frustration, he wondered, "whose ass to kick." While mouths may have dropped open at this un-presidential uttering, his choice of profanity was mild compared to the changes that cursing, cussing, swearing and other euphemisms have had on modern-day American life.

Tongues looser on the job

And the workplace is no exception. Take Vice President Joe Biden, who dropped the "f-bomb" when congratulating Obama on the passage of his Health Care Plan. Biden did not set a precedent because, in the Bush Administration, Vice President Dick Cheney used the same word on the Senate floor to tell Sen. Patrick Leahy to, according to The Washington Times, "perform an anatomical sexual impossibility."

What does this mean for everyday workers? Is foul language becoming more acceptable in the workplace?

"I had just hired a young lady several years out of college to work on our help desk. I was applying a Novell patch to our server and she wanted to see how it was done," says IT supervisor Terence Mahendra. "Of course, what should have been an easy task didn't turn out that way as anyone in IT can attest to, so I kicked the chairs and dropped a few f-bombs -- not realizing that the young lady was still there listening to me rant and curse like a lunatic. When I realized it, I started apologizing profusely and said that is was unprofessional of me to act that way. She told me that she had held back from cursing several times since she started and now she knew she was going to be just fine working here. She was a lot more relaxed after that incident and we became good friends."

Mahendra's fellow employee's reaction is backed by two studies. According to a 2006 study in Psychology Press, Indecent influence: The positive effects of obscenity on persuasion, "obscenity may have its most positive effect when targeted at a congenial audience." Another study states, "Profanity in the workplace can be a morale booster and inspire a sense of team spirit." It depends, of course, on how it's done and at what levels.

"Social" or "annoyance" swearing can be effective in many office and workplace environments, while vulgar or abusive cursing should never be allowed." But, the study concludes, "by no means should employees ever use profanity in front of customers."

Who has the dirtiest mouths?

On surprising finding is that women swear more than men, especially in "mixed company." One theory is that this is a way for them to assert themselves. For example, Carol Bartz, CEO of Yahoo!, told her team that she'd "dropkick to f-ing Mars" anyone who was leaking information about the company. The backlash, however, is that woman who swear may be perceived as having "low moral standing."

Men, on the other hand, seem to get more respect when they swear.

Naturally, Web users have a lot to say on the subject of cursing the workplace. Erica Allison writes, "As an agency owner, I would be very upset if my assistant or anyone else working on a project with me represented us in a less than professional way. To me, swearing does not equate to professionalism."

Commenter "Ace" on the blog TheAntiSocialMedia.com, takes a different stance: "No-one is going to bat an eyelash at the guy swearing left-and-right, but when the prim-and-proper types throw out a 'shit,' you can bet they've got some extra eyes looking at them. It humanizes their efforts a bit more, plus it shows them stepping out of the box, if only for a second." He continues, "I'm a stickler for writing properly (hell, I proofread an e-mail to friends about Friday plans at least three or four times), and I know that swear words can definitely help get a point across. However, I don't think I'm ready to e-mail a co-worker with "Where's that f***ing report?"

Some workers suggest using alternate words in place of the profane. Commenter "Misha," on the same post suggests the colorful alternatives, "Son of a motherless goat," "Shut the front door!" or the old standby, "fudge."

But, more people tend to agree with Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, who said, "There's nothing like the word, "f**k". You can say 'go away,' 'shoo,' 'leave,' all you want, but nothing gets the point across like a good 'f*** off'.'"

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I meant customers not co-workers. My apologies.

April 21 2011 at 6:37 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Profanity has it's uses as a form of expression for frustration and to also show people that you are willing to be casual. If your boss let out in exasperation the word "f***" during work you would probably see them in a more human light. I'm actually more worried about the people who continuously tolerate crap because they are the ones most likely to take a submachine gun and blow everyone away. The most dangerous people in the world are not the ones who shout profanity when they are irritated. It's the ones that quietly let if fester in their heart and do something truly evil when they snap. Needless to say like this article points out you shouldn't be swearing in front of co-workers and you can substitute words for profanity. Nevertheless, profanity is just a form of excited utterances not an indication of mental incompitency. I swear all the time when I'm mad but, that has obviously not affected my vocabulary in anyway. The ones who are truly idiots are the people who judge others based on only a single aspect of their nature.

April 21 2011 at 6:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What you say on your own time is your beeswax, but I disagree with swearing at work. The work atmosphere should be professional, and employees should be able to adequately express themselves without profanity. Profanity in the work setting is bad for customer relations, bad for employee morale and lends a subversive tone to the overall business setting. If the boss tells you to move your ass, that's one thing. But for you to tell a co-worker to move their ass? That's a no-no.

April 21 2011 at 6:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It does not surprise me that the writer, Ms. Mahabeer, is from Californis, Profanity in California is so rampant as heard in the so-called professional workplaces. in the movies produced there and apparently by writers that the damage done to our society is making us hated by most of the world.
Instead of using profanity, it would be a credit to California if business there, no matter what the business, tried to raise the level of civility in our society rather than totally destroy it and market the destruction as acceptable. It is not!!!!!

April 21 2011 at 6:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
David Hersh

The mark of an educated person is his/her ability to speak with precision.

April 21 2011 at 6:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Swearing at work is unprofesional. It looks trashy, especially if the public is there listening. Where I work if anyone swears they get written up, then counseled, and if it keeps up - terminated. It's disobeying rules and under the category of "Insubordination".

April 21 2011 at 5:58 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Not unusual, just another lowering of the bar in
Not unusual, just another lowering of the bar in America. Many years ago I worked as a telephone installer. Was in many, many homes. Three years ago I took a part time job that necessitated going into houses. Years ago I would have used the word, homes, but not now. I can't belive the squalor of those places. Stys. sad eh ?

April 21 2011 at 5:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

cussing is nothing more than the use of 'colorful colloquialisms,' and everybody should damn well lighten up...using them and hearing them hasn't hurt anyone...give me a break. More damage is done through the words of devout followers of one religion or another than cussing like a drunken sailor

April 21 2011 at 5:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Curse in another language. People can't be offended if they don't know what the heck you are saying!

April 21 2011 at 5:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Clearly gmanswife1 has never heard of William F Buckley.
Perhaps though, she may have heard of Mark Twain. "Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer."

April 21 2011 at 5:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

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