speaker shoutingWhen a speaker or author drops the “f bomb,” utters excretory expletives, or launches a lusty cuss word, it doesn’t add emphasis. It doesn’t make them look cool, hip, and smart. It makes them seem crass, juvenile, arrogant, and less than they are.

I say this not because I’m a linguistic purist. Far from it. I use my share of colorful language in private conversation — probably too much and too widely, in fact.

But there’s a considerable difference between cursing in private and doing so in front of an audience, in the pages of a book, or on screen in a blog.

I recently read a pair of business books that seemed to revel in the use of foul language. No doubt the authors felt that such word choice helped to underscore the points they were making. In several cases, it was done as a way of expressing outrage. It fell flat.

Over the weekend, I also watched a presentation from a tech conference where a very popular speaker seemed infatuated by excrement, and he littered his talk with constant references of that nature. The audience often laughed when he would use the word, no doubt encouraging increased usage.

I’d offer up examples from social media, but blogs and podcasts are so frequently the venue for foul language that it hardly seems fair to do so. If you’re not quoting someone or writing fiction, there’s really no reason to reach into the toilet for such verbiage.

This sort of thing seems much more prevalent in geek culture where everything is a bit more casual and relaxed, even when it comes to business and professional life. But my advice to those who write and speak is to cut out the potty mouth. You can be even more effective — and reach a wider audience — without it.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks, Chip, for this timely post. It takes a lot to stun or offend me, yet I also don’t think there’s a need for “salty” language in the business (or education) world. In my experience, sometimes audiences laugh because they’re uncomfortable, not just because they think things are funny.

    There are a few podcasts I listen to on a regular basis that have excellent content. I learn from them every time I listen. However, I cannot recommend that my college students listen to these podcasts due to their occasional (and unnecessary) use of foul language. It’s a shame. I am even hesitant to play excerpts of the podcasts in class, just in case I fail to stop the audio before the offending language. (NOTE: One of the two universities I teach for is a Christian university; the other is a public one. I chose not to recommend the podcasts for either group of students.)

    Barbara

  2. Barbara- absolutely right to include podcasters in the mix. One marketing podcast in particular that I can think of is actually given the “explicit” warning label on iTunes because of language. There’s no good reason for that.

  3. I’d say if its a speaker I don’t know, I’d think the same thing. On the other hand, you have speakers like Gary Vaynerchuk where you already know his personality, and it doesn’t bother me when he drops the f-bomb. Could be a generational thing though, I’m 27 and I’ve grown up with liberal business environments.

    It probably depends on the topic too. If you’re talking law and politics, or something more formal it makes sense. When you’re talking social media and transparency, I think it’s ok to be.. well.. transparent.

    Again though, it doesn’t bother me but I agree with you that I know a lot of people who do prefer people to keep their speeches more clean. I’d say most people actually.

  4. I think of it in the same way stand-up comedians do.

    Anyone can tell a dirty joke. It takes still to get laughs without going blue.

    Granted, there is some very funny blue material out there, but the person who can get your attention without dropping bombs is likely doing so because of presentation and content, and not shock value.

  5. I’m with Ike. The more stills you have, the drunker your audience, the more they’re going to laugh, barf, pass out, etc. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

    I’m also with Amaaanda. If someone is speaking to an audience that has a fairly relaxed approach to office etiquette, they’re less likely to be offended if you critique a company that can’t get its poop together. If it’s used for emphasis, and isn’t grossly scatological or sexological, the odd naughty word can help you get a message across.

    But I wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who isn’t a good speaker (and especially if you don’t have a very clear sense of who you’re speaking to).

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