To swear or not to f**cking swear, that is the question.

Do people respect you less if you say “fuck” in meetings?


I swear a lot. I think I swear more than the average person. In fact, I think I swear more than the average person who swears a lot would normally swear.

I’ve been told that swearing shows a lack of vocabulary but that is false. I know how to use large words that mean little in correct and sound sentences that create perfectly formed paragraphs and thoughts. So let’s put that to rest up front. I know how to speak without using words like fuck and shit.

Yesterday a friend of mine asked me why I swear and my gut reaction was: “Because I can,” and move on.

We started to unpack the discussion while walking to get a cup of coffee. As the conversation progressed I noticed that I had been swearing throughout and hadn’t even noticed. Much like the pink elephant in the room that no one will admit they can see until someone points it out.

Our discussion moved to a business context and whether people look at me differently for swearing and then choose not to work with me. This got me thinking because it’s not the first time this has come up.

Picture This

You’re about to go into a boardroom with senior executives. You all take part in the regular banter over coffee and handshakes: “Remember that fucking horrible drive you hit on the 18th hole yesterday?” “I had such a shit experience at the carwash.” And even, “Wow, that bitch who spilled coffee on me at the coffee shop really irritated me”.

Then you walk into the boardroom and the first person to swear gets shot “the look”. You all know that look. It’s the look that makes you feel like as if you just spat on something very holy that someone very important holds very dear. That look.

But not 10 minutes prior you were all in the hallway talking shit about your weekends. That confuses the crap out of me. In fact, I refuse to put up with it and don’t like the double standards.

After talking through my dirty habit with my friend for a bit longer I arrived at the conclusion that part of the reason I swear is a matter of transparency and consistency. Here are some of the reasons that I think that people should get over this irrational judgement on those of us who swear.

I am who I am

I don’t put on a sales show for clients or socially deemed “respectable” people. If you and I swear (even a little) outside of the office or boardroom environment then it is a condoned activity and one that I will bring into our office relationship. I am a consistent swearer, not a show-boating swearer.

What you see is what you get and this is who you’re going to be working with. Imagine I walked into your office wearing a tailored suit, slick back hair (if I had any hair) and was the socially accepted, cookie-cutter business person. Then you hired me and we had our first meeting and that went well. I dropped a soft swear word in the course of the meeting, something like a “damn” or “hell”, I even enthusiastically used the word “freakin’” to replace “fucking”.

Then we had our next session and I went full-on prison banter in the meeting room. You would be appalled, shocked and most likely hate working with me going forward. For that reason, I start with people how I plan to finish, strong. If you don’t like this, then we’re probably not going to get on too well.

I’m vetting you

Do I want to work with you if you’re not the kind of person that I can be myself around? Probably not.

If you had to tell me to lie, cheat or rob someone to win your work I would tell you get fucked and walk out. In the same way, if you make me feel like I have to act like someone I’m not, then you’re probably not the right fit for me and what I can offer you.

Respect your elders

Some people urge me not to swear around the older generations. I have to ask: Did they not swear in World War 2? Are old people sacrosanct? Did the words that seem to offend only the young not exist when these older generations were my age? I think not.

Yes, it’s perhaps viewed as a matter of respect but I’m going to refer back to the handshake banter that I spoke of earlier in this article. I’ve witnessed some of the most educational linguistic “abuse” from people over the age of 70. They’ve used and forgotten more words than I can even begin to understand. Don’t give me that “respect your elders” rubbish. If you want me to respect them, let me treat them with the respect that they’ve earned; an honest and upfront approach, not some kid-glove bullshit.

Many people will argue that I wouldn’t swear in front of my parents. I hate to break it to you, your parents swear when they’re around their friends. Your parents have heard swear words before. Your parents have heard you swear. Your parents have even had sex. There, I said it. I can promise you that they know how to handle a swear word out of your mouth. Mine sure as hell know that I swear because they swear in conversation with me too nowadays.

The Women Card

The next group of people that are often at the front lines of the justification for now swearing is women. I have no idea why. Apparently women have ears that will explode if they hear a swear word. I find it condescending that men believe that women cannot handle a swear word in a meeting.

I get equally irritated with women who believe it’s their prerogative to judge my choice of words as if their understanding of the world is more appropriate than mine. Well, I hate the way you talk to babies in that high-pitched voice with the goo-goos and ga-gas but I keep that to myself because you’re entitled to look as silly as you want, as am I.

The Cool Factor

I don’t think that it’s cool to swear. I don’t think that it’s cool not to swear. I don’t think your level of coolness has anything to do with whether you swear or not. I don’t think it makes me cool to swear. I do think that it makes sense to be who you want to be and stick with that. And if that includes swearing, then that’s cool.

Offence is taken, not given

In closing I’d like to propose that your offence is your problem and not mine. My use of swear words is not a problem that I have with language. Your offence is a problem that you have with the world around you. Your offence is yours alone, not mine to be responsible for. You can choose to manage your expectations, you can choose to remove yourself from my company or you can choose to accept the fact that people are different.

I may swear and you may not but that doesn’t mean that one of us needs to be correct or incorrect. I’m not offended by your lack of animated language. I may be a bit bored, but I am not offended.

If I were to judge you by your own standards but with my own rules applied, I should be mortified if we go three paragraphs of conversation and you never use a swear word.