What Did I Just Hear You Say?

I come from a long line of cursers in my family. I never embraced the habit because I always saw it as an expression of weakness and lack of self-control. I really abhor the SOB and MF terms since it brings your mother into the conversation.

Some work environments have been given a green light when it comes to bad language. Veterans in my family say cursing in the armed services is a frequent as the common cold. For the male athletes in our midst, ask them about the potty mouth language that is thrown around in the locker room and the playing field. I have friends in law enforcement that tell me that the stress of their jobs requires the occasional profane tirade.

The older I get, the more I am convinced we should take another look at swearing in the workplace. With that being said, I don’t think we should promote angry communication that devalues our colleagues and customers. However, I believe we should give people the latitude to be authentic and consistent to whom they really are to let some invectives fly every now and again as long as it avoids personal insults.

For the religious purists out there who advocate for profanity free workplaces, have you noticed how your millennial colleagues have liberalized the use of the “F word.” My millennial children drop this term regularly particularly in the context of “WTF” to describe being surprised or taken aback by something. As our most diverse generation even when it comes to language, their communication style embraces experiential diversity where personality differences are more important than gender and racial distinctions.

As someone who has worked in plenty of rough and tumble workplaces, I have noticed that people who drop the occasional bad word do so for a number of reasons:

(1) They are being consistent to their real selves.
(2) They have a momentary instance of frustration.
(3) They are testing others in the workplace.
(4) They are making a power play.

Some female leaders have told me that their embracing of an infrequent “F bomb” has helped their career as they reverse cover in order to be accepted by male colleagues who ironically claim they are too pushy and too much like one of them.

Other folks tell me it is important to determine if their boss curses which may be a sign that the work culture tolerates the rare profane rant.

What do you think? Should we curse at work or do you frankly don’t give a damn?

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply


I think it’s rude, and nobody should have to listen to another person cursing int he workplace. I think we should be able to sue for this as with sexual and racial discrimination. It’s just another form of disrespect.


I agree. We have enough to contend with in this politically charged atmosphere the same with using the g-d word or variations. I find it highly offensive not only to my religious bias but also portends a poor vocabulary no matter what education level you are at.


20 years in the military caused me to curse like a sailor. However, when I started working on my job and heard the men curse, I realized how insulting it was, especially, in meetings. I made it a point to change that habit. It was not an easy task. Just when I thought I had kicked the habit a curse word or two would come out at work. I kept at it, now the habit is broken. I don’t allow cursing in my home, in my surroundings, so I won’t accept cursing at work on my job. I feel it’s a form of intimidation, insulting, and offensive. I will make it a point to let someone know that I feel offended by their cursing and ask them to stop in my presence. They will apologize and stop. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be in a pleasant working environment.


It’s all what you’re use to or are willing to accept. I believe people should be able to curse as long as it’s not to a customer or personally attacking someone or using the F bomb every other word (I can tolerate some). Cursing is form of expressing oneself, but in a society that values perfection, gets offended easily, reinforces a perceived professional image or VERY conventional, reserved environment, many still struggle with curse words. They think it’s a form of disrespect and look down on people who curse. Like tattoos and green or pink hair, non-conventional people don’t want to be boxed into someone else’s idea of what and how they should look, act or talk.


Life and death is in the power of the tongue. You can encourage someone or you can destroy them with what and how you say something. I would rather SEE pink hair and tattoos than hear offensive, downgrading language coming out of someone’s mouth, especially, a lady.


I once was chewed out by a co-worker for using the term “snafu.” In context, there had been a minor error in intra-government communications and I stated that it wasn’t a big deal–just a minor snafu. Never even used the actual words–just the acronym. Still was enough for her to get VERY upset re my “professionalism”. I can’t imagine what she would have thought if I’d said everything was fubar…

I will agree that for many people who have been through bad relationships, having a coworker (male or female) express hostility through swearing can bring back all sorts of nasty flashbacks and it can have some horrid effects on workplace amicability, communications, and efficiency even if nothing was meant to be taken personally. For that reason, I do my best to not swear at work as a matter of routine. However, I will admit I do make exceptions from time to time for particularly bad situations but I’m picky about who I express myself to in that manner.

Mark Hammer

Much like cooking, which can be “stinky” to some at the same time as it is “aromatic” to others, and attempts at comedy, which can be socially divisive OR unifying, the quality of language in the workplace can convey disrespect for one’s co-workers, the mission, or professionalism in general, OR it can convey the sort of authenticity on which professionalism and dedication to the mission and team is based.

The tricky part is identifying the right context where it can have the one impact vs the other. “Context” implies not only the moment, but also the people and tasks accompanying the moment. It also implies what precedes and what follows.

I recall an incident some 40 years back, when we had a Japanese post-doc in our lab. Myself and two of the grad students were kibitzing one afternoon, feigning the rough-and-blue locker-room language of some testosterone-drenched workplaces, and dropping f-bomb after f-bomb, trying to outdo each other (it was in a room out of earshot of other labs or the general public). The post-doc was with us, quietly witnessing this. Wishing to be part of what was clearly a moment of light-hearted camaraderie, he blurted out “S**T!” with a look of pride, as if it was an accomplishment to have identified his own contribution to the back-and-forth. In his mind, he was now “one of the guys”, and we were glad for him. Sometimes, it’s the right thing at the right moment, and sometimes it isn’t.