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27 October 2004

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What the **** is wrong with your ****ing language and what can you ******* well do about it?!

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How often do we hear words that shock, disgust, offend or frighten? 

Whether spoken by youngsters in the rebelliousness of youth, when shocking our 'oldies' is cool and gets us 'street cred', or the unexpected and worrying outburst of our work colleagues, swearing is unfortunately a verbal habit on the up. 

Even normally reserved members of our society are prone to outbursts of shocking expletives, tiny children vocalise mouthfuls of dirty words and thoroughly traumatise their respectable parents. Other members of our community just swear, the expletives and obscenities roll off the tongue with fluidity nothing short of genius in articulation. The child of a swearing genius copies and follows the language of the home and enters school as a fluent speaker of the English language interspersed by some our most 'colourful' language. The child of a reserved and cautious family soon imitates the more colourful and daring language of their swearing peer only to return home to repeat their new vocabulary to outraged parents.

As a society we blame television programmes and cinema movies for the upturn in everyday swearing - after all, those of you who watched the blockbuster Reservoir Dogs, like me too scared to observe the horrors enfolding on the screen, probably found yourself counting the number of times **** or ******* was uttered, whispered or yelled by the main characters. How often do we hear the beep during our TV chat shows as the presenters or guests express themselves in their everyday vocabulary so interspersed with obscenities. Last night I watched the out takes of the early evening quiz show A Question of Sport. How many who watch the programme in the early evening imagine the great effort taken over a considerable time to edit out the swearing to produce a programme which can be watched by all. Swearing has become so commonplace few of us really appreciate or have thinking rapid enough to delete the words before we utter them.

Do those who use our most expressive words so comfortably recognise the offence to many other people when such language is uttered? Have obscenities become so commonplace that the impact is lost to many, the usage of such words no more unusual than any other adjective? Or do we feel more comfortable expressing ourselves in the language of those who scare us, after all speaking the same language gives us a sense of commonality, we do not stick out in a crowd and by joining in we grow in confidence and feelings of safety.

Swearing still offends, there are times, there are places and there are people and communities where the language of obscenity is not tolerated.

Do you swear? Do you swear in passing, in rage, in fun, to find commonality with your peers? Are you comfortable when using obscenities? Have you found yourself swearing when such language is inappropriate? Have you shocked yourself as the words flowed easily and effortlessly from your tongue?

Have you been aware of the reaction of those around you when the colour of your language has been too flamboyant? Even more alarmingly, have you found yourself up in front of your boss, your headteacher, the police or your parents after uttering forth a stream of obscenities?

Most of us are required to conduct ourselves in an appropriate and orderly manner at school and work. At home our language can offend our friends and family, yet is unlikely to have serious consequences to our livelihood and future. Used to excess in public, foul language can send an outraged member of the public in search of a policeman. At work an incautious outburst of swearing or a careless slip of the tongue can result in a disciplinary hearing. The closer to face-to-face contact with customers or clients your job takes you any outbursts or careless use of obscenities can result in dismissal. 

A careless slip and a salesman closing a contract will find the business lost, hard earned commission lost in an instant whilst gaining a furious boss concerned about the reputation of his company. Most likely a job is lost, a reference hard to come by, a career in tatters. An overwrought and exhausted doctor, so calm and dignified at the beginning of a shift swears at a patient. The patient has no concern for the mental or physical condition of the doctor. The incident is noted in the doctor's record. A young student is hauled up for an over enthusiastic tirade of obscenities when drunk after exams. The young student goes on to be elected as a member of parliament and several years later rises to the rank of government minister. Growing dissatisfaction over the policies of the government and rumours of corruption lead journalists to dig and probe the past life and times of the government minister. Guess what happens next?

I am certain most of us have found ourselves at times too close to swearing. When the use of obscenities becomes a habit we have entered the danger zone for slip-ups at times considered highly inappropriate. Many years ago I found myself working alongside a senior manager for whom swearing was a way of life. Expletives interspersed everyday conversation. I found myself swearing like a trouper very quickly as I struggled to find some common ground. The habit grew and I found myself slipping into the use of over colourful language at home, much to the distress of older family.

What can be done to lose the habit of swearing, to regain control of our language, to confidently engage in conversation without fear of slip-ups which can prove so costly to our work and business life and upset our more reserved friends and colleagues? Some time ago, a businessman arrived at my office.

A dignified and reserved gentleman, the businessman had become shocked by the frequency of his swearing, his family were appalled and colleagues concerned. Expletives would slip their way effortlessly into his normal conversation. Customer contact and presentations to board meetings had become a great source of anxiety as he realised the danger of utilising inappropriate adjectives to describe the services he offered. The businessman had traced back time to the beginning of his extended vocabulary. His teenage son had taken a job working in a factory where the tough guys used expletives freely in their daily conversation. At home the new language of the son had resulted in some harsh words, yet in time the expletives had found their way into the vocabulary of other family members who began to swear with regularity close to habit.

Afraid he would forget to use clean language with customers and in doing so lose credibility as a professional the businessman sought my help. In our business we guide clients to make changes in their lives to enable them to move forward by overcoming problems and barriers which impede their progress. Following therapy, the businessman has continued to inform me of his progress. He is unable to swear. Swear words and expletives still flash up in his mind's eye, yet do not trip off his tongue. The novelty and pleasure of knowing he has overcome a potentially career threatening habit continues to be a source of pleasure and amusement, not only for himself, also his family. Giving presentations and chatting to other businessmen has ceased to be a worrying challenge.

Swearing is a problem which responds successfully to therapy when the individual who swears is determined to stop. The more motivated to change a habit, the more successful therapy will be. Bringing along a teenager who is delighting in being out and about with his friends is unlikely to be successful, because the chances are it is Mum or Dad who want the swearing to stop and not the teenager who is in tune with his peers. The habit of swearing here is with the teenager and it is the teenager himself who must want to change. No matter how determined the parents that the teenager will stop, the 'problem' belongs to the teenager and if he is unwilling to give this up he will not make the change! So if swearing is a problem for you, it is your problem and a problem you want to get rid of then therapy is available which will allow you to move forward with clean language, free from the consequences of the disastrous slip-up at work which could undermine your career plans.

November 2003




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Article by: Joan Small

Joan Small is a partner in a locally based business called change.TOGAIN which helps people struggling to overcome their problems. 

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