It’s undeniable, things happen every day that can drive you to distraction. However, should venting frustration, annoyance or pain not be coloured in shades other than blue? I was always told that swearing merely displayed one’s limited vocabulary or ability to manipulate language.

Oh deary me!

Between being a teacher and a mum to 2 little people, my relationship with expletives ended quite some time ago. I have an affection for the far quainter ‘Grandma’ versions of cursing: Crikey! Oh lorkes! By jiminy! Oh fudge cake!; and to hear a glorious insult, like this one by Henry James on Oscar Wilde, is something of a treat:

‘”Hosscar” Wilde is a fatuous fool, a tenth-rate cad, an unclean beast.”

Personally I think Oscar is/was fab, but you can’t deny the insult, while deeply insulting, is beautifully lyrical, showing a far better grasp of language than anything we get to revel in these days where swearing litters most spoken sentences. Some movie plots are impossible to follow riddled as they are with swearing that does little to explain what’s actually happening. With the official millionth word added to the English language in 2009, there are plenty of other words to draw on to replace those over-used, multi-meaning mini-words.

What of the worldwide ‘texplitives’: OMG, WTF/H, PITA, FFS, and so forth? By not actually ‘saying’ the word, can you get away with it? After all, ‘Jiminy Cricket’, ‘Oh lorkes’ and ‘Crikey’ are all derivatives of blasphemous curses, which were far from acceptable back in the day.

Expletives seem to be losing the power they once had: they’re now catch-alls used to express a rainbow of emotions that are met in myriad moments of the day when an expletive is the natural reaction. What would you say if you slammed your finger in a drawer/ hit the send button on an email half way through composing it? Should four-letter words have the stigma removed maybe? Has it already been removed and only a few dinosaurs like me find them uncomfortable to say and hear? I’m not saying get rid — far from it! A well-placed swear in a genuine rant that has purpose and structure adds power and punch, but in a professional setting this kind of rant really shouldn’t rear it’s head.

In a moment of extraordinary coincidence, halfway though writing this an email appeared in my inbox from Outshine Consulting regarding professionalism in the workplace. Faye Hollands’ words perfectly sum up my feelings about swearing and the impression it gives:

“…The way you communicate has a huge impact on how professional you’re perceived to be.  It doesn’t matter what job you do, swearing will never be a prerequisite on a position description, nor will it help you in the professionalism stakes.  Similarly, slang and inappropriate phrases along with general rambling and poor communication will do nothing other than damage your image.  On the flip side, being able to communicate your ideas and opinions clearly, and with respect, will serve you much more positively.  Again, it doesn’t matter whether you sit behind a desk, or work on a building site, being able to communicate appropriately is an important ingredient in the professionalism-mix!”

Hear, hear!

For more thoughts about expletives see:

Proofreader, copy-writer and copy-editor

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