swearing in the workplace

A reader writes:

What do you think about swearing in the workplace? I realize that different workplaces have different cultures, but I feel like (in general) it should be deemed unacceptable. I don’t mind the occasional curse word here or there. In my last job, however, people were much more open about swearing. In fact, attention was even drawn to me for NOT swearing. This made me feel like I was seen as an outcast or a prude simply for not tossing a curse word out there occasionally. I’m just curious what you think about this!

Oooh, interesting question, and I bet it’s going to be a controversial one. I don’t think there’s one right answer to this, and I’d love to hear what other people think about it.

Personally, I think it depends 100% on the culture of the particular workplace. I’ve worked places where profanity flew around freely, and I’ve worked places where it would have been shocking to hear anything stronger than “crap.” It’s just a reflection of different workplace cultures and social norms.

But it’s just common courtesy for profanity-loving people to be aware that not everyone is comfortable around it, and they should be attuned to signs of discomfort — and rein their mouths in accordingly when they get those cues. And it’s also true that no office culture will be right for everyone.

Additionally, while I have the mouth of a sailor in my non-work life — an extremely offensive sailor — no one in a professional environment should make someone feel uncomfortable for not swearing. That’s F’d up.

What do others think?  If you and your workplace are occasionally profane, what’s your take on how to avoid offending others? Or, if profanity bothers you, would you raise the issue in your workplace?

{ 103 comments… read them below }

  1. Cruella*

    Profanity is never appropriate in the work place. It is crass and unprofessional. Those who do feel it is okay, probably lack the vocabulary to express themselves with out it.

    1. Jamie*

      The old adage about people who swear lack the vocabulary to do otherwise is patently untrue.

      When I’m on my way out the door after 11 hours and am notified of a server problem which requires me to take of my coat and settle in for a night of urgent troubleshooting I have the verbal ability to express my momentary frustration with my choice of career fairly well. And conversely, once solved I could wax rhapsodic about my accomplishment…but why bother when the F word sums up both scenarios so well?

      1. Jennifer*

        I’m with these folks.

        I’m fairly well-educated and smart; however, there are truly times when “F—–” or what-have-you is all that is needed to sum up what one is feeling.

        That said, I tend toward “prim and proper” in the workplace. I’m just glad I don’t party with my coworkers, because I’m truly 2 different people at work and away from work!

  2. Sabrina*

    I think if you work in construction or trucking, it’s par for the course. But other industries that are more office oriented, no. I also have the mouth of a trucker, a sailor, a telephone repairman, and my grandmother, so I can relate, AAM, but I’ve learned (the hard way – young & stupid) that it’s not generally appropriate in the workplace. ;)

    1. chad*

      I work at poppa johns and I hear some swairing on some days but not all the time
      let me tell you something as a Christian it’s not ok to swair in the work place you might think you can do whatever you want
      but if you keep swairing and doing what you want
      you may think smoking and swaring is all fun and games
      but your going the wrong way
      jesus said I am the way the truth and the life no man come on to the father but by me
      I go to church every sunday morning to worship god and injoy the preaching from pastor alex

      1. Richard*

        I think smoking at work was the other thread…

        … and probably not one we want to revisit :)

  3. Anonymous*

    My workplace is very sweary (hell, even our Chief Sales Officer uses cusswords in her mails! No, it certainly doesn’t look good…) but I think if you’re going to swear at work, keep it to breaktimes; never in emails or in customers’ earshot.

    1. Anonymous*

      keep it to yourself. cussing is speaking curses and we are to speak blessing to and for each other. 90 something percent of our nervous system is controlled by the voice box (crazy huh) so if thats what you want working in you is the curses thats up to you I prefer blessings to flow out of my voice box . amen

      1. Anonymous*

        Hahaha… uhm… wow. The nervous system is absolutely not controlled by the “voice box,” or larynx, in any way, shape, or form.

  4. Jamie*

    I think the default should be to refrain from swearing, because some people are uncomfortable with it and their right to not be offended in the work place trumps anyone’s right to swear.

    And certainly, those who do should know their audience. If you are even slightly uncertain about the propriety then just don’t.

    That said – personally it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. If I had a nickle for every f*ck I’ve muttered under my breath while working I would be a very rich woman. Compounded daily.

    It’s just a question of being appropriate to the occasion and the company. My rule of thumb is I won’t swear in front of anyone who hasn’t sworn in front of me first…and if someone says the S word I wouldn’t think it was okay to say the F word. Kind of keep it in the same ballpark.

    Just know your audience.

    While I agree 100% that no one should be made to feel uncomfortable for not swearing – any office where crap was the high bar for curse words isn’t a place I would feel too comfortable for long. I would probably explode in a barrage of profanities on the way home from such a job, kind of like a pressure cooker.

    1. Kathy*

      I love your tone in this email (and I’m being serious). It’s hilarious :) :)

  5. Kyle*

    Swearing can help to communicate passion. Am I passionate about my job? Hell yeah!

    It needs to be done in context, and in moderation, but I feel it’s perfectly normal and healthy.

  6. Kelly O*

    While I agree that it’s generally inappropriate, I think going off the deep end in response is equally inappropriate. Adults are going to occasionally use adult language (most of us, at least) and sometimes things slip.

    Honestly sometimes I think people are looking for something to offend them so they can feel like they have a reason to express their displeasure with whatever. I did not like junior high when I was in it, and I dislike it more as an adult dealing with other alleged adults behaving as though they were in junior high.

    1. Jamie*

      While I certainly wouldn’t want to intentionally offend anyone, the “gotcha game” Kelly illustrates is infuriating.

      Some people are always looking for something about which to be offended – it’s ridiculous. If it isn’t swearing it’s who has the better parking spot, who told a joke they didn’t find funny, some elderly customer calling them “hon” which can apparently threaten the core of any woman’s career.

      I really hate the gotcha game, probably because it’s so hard to offend me that I’m super bad at it.

      1. Kelly O*

        Jamie, I have to say I’m totally biased as far as the “gotcha” thing goes. I’ve been written up for one curse word. ONE. I am 33 years old, and I said “oh f-” as I was walking down the hall.

        So yeah, I’m biased. I’ve worked in some places where an “oh f-” would have earned you a choir girl badge, so my shock level at getting written up was fairly high. Now, in this workplace it’s okay to gripe and complain about everything. It’s okay to work the clock so you can come in a little late and leave a little early every day. But it’s not okay to let a curse word slip when you’re upset. (The reason behind the f-bomb is long and frustrating in and of itself. I thought I was being levelheaded and reasonable by only letting that slide.)

        By the way, my husband is in IT. I totally feel your pain about heading out the door after a long day and getting a bomb dropped on you. The only one better is the Saturday evening at 6:00 call when someone just now noticed something has been wrong all day. Those are precious.

  7. MillenniMedia*

    I agree with you AAM – I think it really varies according to corporate culture. Swearing (including F-bombs) has been commonplace at most places I’ve worked, so it really doesn’t bother me. I do tend to hold back unless I have a relationship with the person and know whether they’d be offended, as I agree that no matter the culture no one should be made to feel uncomfortable for having a clean vocabulary. That said, I think taking shots at the intelligence of people who swear is equally inappropriate.

    Workplace culture will not be universally acceptable to everyone, so it’s important to find a place you fit in. The term “unprofessional” can be so loosely interpreted. For example, a lawyer might go to work every day in a suit and tie, whereas a tech employee may show up in jeans and a hoodie (a la Zuckerberg). I don’t think one is necessarily more professional than the other, but the cultural norms are vastly different.

  8. Mike C.*

    Like AAM says, it really depends on the culture. Yeah, you shouldn’t make people feel uncomfortable, but when folks simply decide to make rules for everyone else it goes too far.

  9. Jennifer*

    There are office-oriented industries where swearing is part of the culture. I work in newspapers, and when things are getting hectic on deadline, you’ll definitely hear people swear.

    Some people never swear, of course, and that’s fine too.

    And newspaper people definitely have the vocabulary to express themselves in other ways — it’s not a matter of lacking intelligence!

    1. dcecelia*

      I was going to say just this. I also work in a newsroom and I probably hear the eff word at least once an hour. However, there are certain people that I tend to not swear around, such as older coworkers who it might make uncomfortable or higher-ups. I also obviously don’t swear in front of sources unless we’ve already established a rapport where that would be appropriate.

      It just would never be worth it to make someone feel uncomfortable just to be able to swear, and I think that most savvy employees can judge individual situations (or at least should!).

  10. GeekChic*

    I work in IT and swearing is par for the course. Mind you, none of the techs that I’ve worked with swear when in front of customers.

    Also, no tech that I know would make someone uncomfortable for not swearing – that’s just weird. That said, if a so-called “prude” tried to make the rest of us uncomfortable while within the confines of IT… well we wouldn’t exactly be pleasant in telling them where to go.

    1. Jamie*

      Can you imagine a bunch of techs sharing stories about their end users without swearing?

      I’m not sure such a thing has taken place in the history of IT :).

      1. A. Nony Mouse*

        Or techs fighting with misbehaving systems. Thank God server rooms are so loud!

        1. Anonymous*

          LOL @ Jamie and A. Nony Mouse – I’m in IT too and both points are so true :)

      2. GeekChic*

        @ Jamie: Hah! Exactly! I think all us in my current department would burst a vessel somewhere trying not to swear in that situation.

        1. Jamie*

          That’s why our people (meaning tech people, which totally trumps race, gender, etc for self definition) love acronyms so much.

          If we type FTFY in an email. Does that mean Fixed That For You or does it mean F#@! This F#@! You? (The latter meant in the best possible way, of course.)

          Really depends on how PO’d the sender is at the moment. That’s the beauty of acronyms with multiple meanings…you can’t prove tone.

    2. Richard*

      Having done a programming job, I can confirm that swearing is not only appropriate, but also seems to assist in the debugging process :)

      Definitely never in front of customers/management though.

    3. Chris*

      That is rather common among IT. I am a programmer and have to watch my mouth when I am not around tech people. However, I was a sailor at one point too. ;-)

  11. Anonymous*

    As long as it fits the culture, then hells yeah! Our non-profit office has no problem with a little swearing. We are of course, sensitive to the audience and context and relationships are key. Honestly, I never worry about it. I am worried that no one will speak up up on other issues, with or without decorative wording!

  12. Anonymous*

    So long as they’re not swearing at me, I don’t particularly care if someone swears in front of me. Back in my college days, I had a job with a student security program. And one of the police officers in particular had quite the vocabulary – as in every third word or so.

    Once I figured out that it was just how he talked, I pretty much just filtered it out. And I’ve been known to utter the occasional profanity, usually muttered under my breath at whatever Microsoft Office is doing to annoy me, or when I’ve smacked my knee on the corner of the file drawer or something similar.

    I guess I really don’t understand being terribly offended by being in the mere presence of profanity. It does seem a bit prudish, although if someone lets me know (politely), that it bothers them, I’ll do my best not to let something slip around them. It’s not that important to me to swear, and life’s too short to make a big deal out of it. I just ask that, if something does slip out in a moment of extreme stress, they don’t flip out about it. I think it’s equally weird (at the very least) to single someone out for not swearing.

    1. KellyK*

      So long as they’re not swearing at me, I don’t particularly care if someone swears in front of me.

      My thoughts exactly. I think swearing *at* someone is never appropriate–it’s verbally abusive. Swearing at Microsoft Office, or the program you’re trying to debug, or the shredder that jammed is another story.

      My workplace is pretty mixed on the issue. There are people who swear on a regular basis and people I can’t picture saying anything stronger than “darn it.”

      I don’t think there’s any moral or intellectual divide between swearers and non-swearers, though I do think it’s inconsiderate to swear casually or around people who might take offense. Swearing in meetings, in front of customers, or in e-mails, I’d call unprofessional.

      It’s also worth noting that, like any other habit, it’s hard to turn on and off at will. So if you work with some people who mind and some who don’t, you’re probably better off just not swearing at all.

      1. Anonymous*

        Same here. If its directed swearing or every other word… then I want something done about it. If its an odd expression of exasperation or frustration I have less of an issue with it. I have been known to say “oh RUDE WORDS!” when doing the latter… mainly through lack of ability to think of the appropriate swear word. :)

        1. Kelly O*

          I say “expletive deleted” all the time.

          Someone actually asked me what it meant. I suddenly had to go take a call.

  13. Karl Borris*

    While it should be unacceptable in the workplace, it really depends on the audience. While working in a retail setting, it may be okay during the overnight shifts when no customers are present, but not during the day.

  14. SME*

    In my old company, nobody really cared about boundaries of any sort. People swore, talked about their sexual exploits in graphic detail, picked their wedgies, you name it. The place where I am now is radically more conservative, and it has been incredibly difficult to adjust to. I almost lost my job recently for an outburst of profanity in an inappropriate setting. So my new stance for myself is, don’t do it. You’re always safe if you don’t. If you do, you might accidentally trigger really unpleasant consequences that just aren’t worth it.

    1. Justin*

      That’s what it’s like here. Mostly the “old guard”. They are some colorful characters…

    1. Cruella*

      EHL’s article pretty much sums up my feeling on the whole subject. The occasional, accidental swear-word can be quite cathartic. But I chose to be the example I want those that I lead to follow, and I encourage them to find other, less offensive ways to express themselves. After all, I wouldn’t want someone filing a “hostile workplace” complaint.

      1. fposte*

        Unless you swear only at people in protected legal categories, it wouldn’t legally constitute a hostile workplace, though. That’s got specific legal meaning that needs more, despite the phrase, than hostility to exist.

        1. Anon*

          Not necessarily true. For example, if you use cuss words that are more offensive to a particular protected class that might contribute to or be considered a hostile work environment.

  15. a.b.*

    Never in front of customers or new employees, sure, and never out of direct anger at someone. But a well-placed curse word can sometimes be the little “in” you need to know that you’re in the group. I’m sure everyone can remember the first time you heard an adult curse around you when it wasn’t a mistake.

  16. bob*

    Lauren Bacall: John Bernard Brooks you swear too much!

    John Wayne: The hell I do.

  17. Anonymous*

    I came to my current job, where swearing is prohibited (seriously…no one even says “crap”) from a job where F-bombs and Mother F-bombs flew like crazy.

    It’s a hard transition to make. Although I don’t tend to swear much at work, I’m definitely one to let one fly under my breath every once in a while…having to apologize for saying “shit” is very odd.

  18. Liz T*

    Anyone saying it’s never appropriate is simply wrong. There are plenty of workplaces where it’s appropriate. You don’t have to work at those places, but AAM nailed it that it’s 100% office culture. Office culture also dictates what KIND of cursing is appropriate–cursing for emphasis, or about something, is very different than cursing AT someone. For example.

    But I digress–how can you possibly say that it’s never appropriate, at any workplace? Of COURSE there are workplaces where it’s considered appropriate. And of course no one should be made uncomfortable for NOT cursing–but the OP just says it drew attention, not that it drew NEGATIVE attention.

  19. Marie*

    It’s wrong to use swear words in the workplace; it’s unprofessional and tacky. I would never want to “fit in” in a workplace culture that encourages vulgar language and behavior.

  20. What the?*

    There are alternatives to using offensive language for those that are not comfortable with swearing….my personal fav, ” C u next tuesday!”

    1. fposte*

      I’d far rather people swore than that.

      I also find it more problematic when people swear, then single out the person they think is probably offended for an apology.

  21. Anonymous*

    My work place is pretty relaxed in this regard but I agree with most, you don’t curse in front of customers and you try to get a feel for someone first before cursing in front of them. Having said that I’ve let a few slip out on occasion and I’m not going to lie occasionally they’ve been directed at co-workers…but I feel they were well deserved.

    My issue with cursing and sometimes “inappropriate” conversations with people I’m close with is sometimes others in that group aren’t as attuned to others around them and will repeat something I’ve said that wasn’t meant for general consumption..you have to figure out who those people are and realize they may be ok with what you said..but realize they WILL repeat it to others.

  22. Gene*

    In our office of 5-50-something males, 4 of whom are veterans of the armed forces, swearing is, while not encouraged, certainly tolerated. If we leave our double-wide trailer office and walk over to the permanent building onsite offices, not so much. It all depends upon the people involved.

    The official employee Code of Conduct prohibits, “Abusive language or profanity to any lead, supervisor or members (sic) of the public.” So I guess I can call my cow-orker a s4head, but not my boss. :)

  23. ImpassionedPlatypi*

    First, I find it highly amusing that you have the mouth of a sailor AAM. I’m just remembering your teeny tiny little voice and thinking about you going off on a profane tear about something and it’s just funny :)

    Next, I never really understood the whole “bad” words vs “good” words thing. They’re just… words. Yes, they’re generally reserved for circumstances where you just feel like your sentence or sentiment needs a little more oomph, but still, they’re just words. Should they be used in the workplace? I have no opinion either way really. I don’t care if I hear them and I don’t understand why anyone would be offended by just hearing them. If someone is calling you a swear word, ok I can see being offended. But not so much by the word itself, more by what the word means. If that makes sense. I do agree that those who think it’s inappropriate and “unprofessional” at all times everywhere are just ridiculous though. Obviously some places have cultures where it’s perfectly fine to use those words. Others, you can be disciplined over it. So whether it’s appropriate or not is entirely up to the people running the office or company or store or whatever.

  24. Aaron*

    I don’t swear, I haven’t worked in workplaces where people swear, but if you’re someone who swears I’d actually prefer you swear at work.

    We’re at work for a long time each day, and you are going to go crazy if you can’t be yourself to some extent. Plus, we don’t have to be best friends for life, but it’s great to at least be “work buddies” with your co-workers. You can only do that by showing them who you really are.

    Don’t swear up a storm randomly in front of your CEO, or your customers, or generally act unprofessionally, but if I’m working with you for a few hours a day every day, feel free to loosen up a little.

    For me, that doesn’t mean swearing. But if the first time I hear you swear is 6 months after meeting you when we go out for drinks at the end of some project, I’m going to feel deceived.

    1. Anonymous*

      “But if the first time I hear you swear is 6 months after meeting you when we go out for drinks at the end of some project, I’m going to feel deceived.”

      Really??? Maybe you should “feel free to loosen up a little.”

  25. Anonymous*

    Profanity is the linguistic crutch of otherwise inarticulate motherfuckers. :)

    I’ve worked with people who dropped foul language every other word. Doesn’t bother me. But it does tend to make me question if they’re able to express themselves in another fashion. And it also dilutes the emphasis. Whenever I hear a curse word dropped by somebody who doesn’t usually curse, I know something is wrong. It has meaning.

    On an unrelated now, I’m curious as to whether my comment will be considered foul because I spelled out a certain word in my first line.

    Alison’s post says “That’s F’d up.” and another comment uses “f*ck.” To me, those are more vulgar. If a word is so horrible that it can’t be mentioned, then why mention it? It’s either acceptable or it isn’t. Using it but changing a letter or three doesn’t suddenly make it socially acceptable, does it?

    1. Anonymous*

      How funny – like at many workplaces, now that you’ve said an actual cuss word, other folks are starting to do it, too…

      As for the whole ‘changing the spelling’ thing, people mostly do that out of habit to keep their comments from being automatically removed by profanity filters.

  26. Anonymous*

    I thought I had the mouth of a sailor until I started my most recent job. Seriously, some of you posting here would get the vapors. But the work we do is kick-ass (although I have to remind my charges not to do it when speaking in public, and there have been a couple of unfortunate incidents, but most get it, and they do get called on it)! As many said, it is all about the culture, and adapting to your workplace is something we have to do, providing it is not a hostile, abusive work environment. And I just don’t consider an F-bomb hostile if not directed at anybody, and DO consider an abusive boss who doesn’t even say “crap” a much bigger problem.

  27. Anonymous*

    When I’m with close friends, sometimes every other word out of my mouth is fuck and the thing is, I know that I have coworkers that swear just as much, even if they don’t do it in the workplace. Honestly, I’ve found there’s a correlation between how much a person swears and how likely I am to get along with them (I’m sure this works with not swearing as well), so I don’t mind it in the workplace as long as the culture allows it.

    I do find it bad manners to swear so loudly that the person 10 desks away can hear you, even if it isn’t a super conservative environment. But that has less to do with the act of cursing than it does with self-awareness and courtesy. Just because you’re frustrated doesn’t mean anyone else should care.

  28. Cassie*

    I too don’t really care much for “bad” words vs “good” words – that said, I find profanity jarring in the workplace (particularly the f-word and s-word; though the b-word is kind of inappropriate in the workplace – depending on your audience). I take public transportation to/from work so I hear plenty of profanity on daily basis (thank you very much!).

    If you are eating lunch with friendly coworkers, and you want to curse – fine. But if I’m sitting at my cubicle and you are just casually throwing out f-bombs, it’s totally inappropriate (I work in a university). What if a professor walked by? What if we had an outside visitor – someone from industry or a government agency?

    Again, I’m not completely against “bad” words (I curse silently at times) and I can understand if you mess something up or find out some bad news. But again, try to keep it clean for the sake of everyone else. One manager doesn’t have mouth like a sailor, but she does curse now and then. And she’s really loud – so you’ll hear her from the other side of the cubicle area. (She also told that my boss was an asshole which left me speechless – I mean, I know some people share that sentiment about him, but to use that word? Completely classless).

  29. Megan*

    When I was very young, my mother would let loose with a whole string of curse words “God Damn Son of a Bit…”. Some how or another I managed to turn it in to “God Bless It”, with the same tone of voice she used, so when it slips between my lips you know I am not happy. I also substitute “fork” for the other word, not because I dont cuss, but because I work in a call center. Tone of voice is subjective, so I dont have issues with saying fork where I would for saying f*ck.

    I work in collections with the general public where the subject of levies and liens are common place; so you can imagine in this economy what I frequently hear from the other end of the phone. I need an outlet just like everyone else or I’ll explode, thankfully I have a mute button and I have learned what not to say and still be able to blow off steam.

  30. Piper*

    Agreed that it depends on the workplace and that swearing at someone is never appropriate. F-bombs tend to fly frequently around my office, and swearing is just part of daily life here. But there have also been times where the CEO flipped out and swore at people (this incident may also have included him throwing a chair across the room that nearly hit me in the foot, but I digress).

    That said, I’m fine with swearing. You just have to use common sense about it.

  31. Suz*

    Many years ago when I started working in the paving industry, the other women I worked with told me the quickest way to be accepted as one of the guys was to drop the f-bomb a few times. Say it when you’re telling a joke or funny story, not when you’re angry.

  32. Joey*

    Allowing swearing at work is not worth the risk. The occasional swear is probably not going to get anyone in hot water, but excessive swearing could be used against the company if anyone were ever to link it to a discriminatory allegation.

  33. Anonymous*

    I swear outside of work plenty, but at work I keep it professional. I occasionally let a light swear word slip, but it’s rare, and I make sure the context and situation is appropriate.

    Most other people at my work keep it professional too, but some people here swear, talk about their sex lives, talk about their drinking and marijuana use, and say and do other very inappropriate things. I think its extremely unprofessional, and while it might not get you fired, it makes people not take you as seriously, and they might let you go first if they have to cut back on staff.

    One young woman here (late 20s, so not THAT young) loved to loudly swear in our call center, where it was easily overheard by customers on the other end of a phone call. She also would do this in front of customers, and yes, she got promoted.

    You might think its mostly the young people who do this, but no, they have more sense than that. It’s the middle aged here who talk about their swinging marriage, drug use, stripper friends, etc. and occasionally sneak away to smoke pot in the Wal Mart parking lot across the street.

    We have a manager here who regularly says things like this in meetings:

    “We can’t get OUR sh*t done till you f*ckers get YOUR sh*t done!”

    I had to work with this guy when we released a software product that would allow parents to make online payments to a school for their kids’ lunch balances. We were discussing how it would work with families where the parents had split and/or combined wit other families, and he started talking about “oh so if your parents get divorced, and I start f*cking your mom, I can pay for your lunch so she’ll keep f*cking me?”

  34. Jeff*

    Being a ex-sailor and swearing like one, I have to say I would probably say No swearing on this. Sometimes folks get too comfortable and that leads to other bad behaviors in front of guests/clients/new employees.

    Rule of thumb, if you do swear, look at the people around you before you do.

  35. Leigh*

    I work in the oil & gas industry, and during my interview my boss-to-be made a point of saying that the language around the office was rough and that I’d need to be prepared for it if I took the job. Most of my previous experience had been working for churches, so it was kind of a culture shock. I still don’t curse, but I don’t flinch when others do it (and THEY ALL DO IT, ALL THE TIME, my boss wasn’t kidding).

  36. Sarah*

    Just because people do it all the time, doesn’t make it appropriate.
    I mean, people rob banks all the time, right?

  37. Anonymous*

    The one thing that really drives me nuts is when people designate other words for cuss words. The intention is the same, it’s just some strange mind trick – “I know exactly what I meant, but I thought prettying it up made it OK”. This is not to run afoul of the typing used to avoid filters, or the tongue in cheek comments when surrounded by children. Those don’t bug me – it’s when someone will *always* use a substitute word. Seriously! Just use the word! I would probably not notice it near as much as I do notice the replacements, cause essentially you are just cussing in another language, if you think of it.

    1. Natalie*

      It’s nice to know I’m not the only person who feels that way. My boss does this all. the. time. She’s not attempting to hide cursing from higher ups, children, or clients – just the 5 other adults working in this office with her.

  38. Glen*

    I think you need to be sensitive to the workplace — and until you know that, assume it’s completely unacceptable. I’ve always like the line from Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Hocus Pocus — Profanity gives people an excuse to stop listening to what you say.

  39. Angela*

    You are absolutely right about the work culture thing. A friend of mine works at a construction company, and he told me they give F or middle fingers for greeting. While where I worked for summer in a government office, it’s shocking to swear.

  40. Anony Mouse*

    I would say absolutely not. When someone starts that in the office, I talk to them at the earliest opportunity when I can talk to them privately and ask them to not do it any more because I find it highly offensive. The last straw came on day when one of my colleagues let loose while I was on the phone with a client. They were deeply offended and said so. I told my colleague and our boss. My colleague hasn’t let loose with a sinlge word since.

    1. knewsome69*

      Similar situations have happened to me, where persons from the public visit and the conversation in the next room is vulgar and profane.

  41. knewsome69*

    I’ve worked in those places where profanity was tolerated. Unfortunately, some people carry it to the level where every sentence is structured around a profane word. This leaves them with double or triple explicatives to underscore their interjections. It boils down to lack of couth, and is reflected not just in their syntax but in other behavior area – like their Facebook posts.

  42. Joe*

    I think that what’s less important than the specific words used is the tone. If I casually remark, “I have a ton of shit to do today”, that’s not a problem in my workplace. Sure, I could’ve said, “a ton of stuff”, but nobody cares. On the other hand, if someone went on a tirade, and screamed at someone that they were “a fucking moron”, the problem there wouldn’t be the use of the word “fucking”, it would be the fact that they were screaming inappropriately at someone.

  43. Laura*

    ok, my take on the issue would be that swearing is crass, so at most times it should be kept to a minimum. I recognize your freedom to do whatever you want but ultimately it’s vulgar. Also people who swear tend to be annoyingly repetitive about it. If you heard some say ‘like’ every time they say the f-word it tends to end up making people who swear look like valley girls.
    Now with respect to office cultures or karma or what have you…
    I work in an office where it’s not appropriate to swear, which I would assume is the norm and as much as you can’t just let off a stream of curse words, if you accidentally drop the f-bomb once in a blue moon over an actual issue, no one would really say anything. I think this is appropriate. I’m not sure if it would be perfect for everyone, but every few months, something happens and I drop the f-bomb at work, so I like knowing that I won’t get written up and that from day to day our office is mainly cuss free.

    On a slightly different note about inappropriate word choices, I was working a case which a colleague of mine had dealt with prior to my reviewing it. In the case, was a note she had made, which described the customer as ‘stupid’. I was shocked and laughed because quite frankly I don’t think it was meant maliciously. The full note said “customer refused, because she is stupid”. I still think it was highly inappropriate to note this in an electronic filing system, where a lot of people have the ability to look at it, even though the customer will likely never see it. Of course, this was pretty light on the curse word scale but very very inappropriate and unprofessional.

    1. Joe*

      As evidenced by the variety of responses on this article, people have very different views of what constitutes “foul”, and whether there’s anything wrong with that or not.

  44. nicola*

    My colleagues now make jokes when someone swears saying that be careful Nicola is around ‘laugh’ but i dont think its funny, not because i’m adverse to swearing but hearing some of them f’ing this and f’ing that gets me down, when i want to be a positive, happier person…..should i be made to feel an outcast?

  45. natalie*

    A new guy has started and sits next to me, he swears under his breath all the time except its loud enough for me to hear. The swearing is obviously because he’s stressed etc but its getting too much now so much so that even I have been picking up the swearing and I only swear if something gets me extremely angry. So I jokingly started a swear box so he gets the hint but no use. The other day he came out with the C word and im sorry but that is extremely bad. I don’t know how to tell him to stop

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d just tell him! Say something like, “I know people are different on this issue, but swearing makes me uncomfortable when it happens a lot, and I’d definitely appreciate not hearing some words ever, like the C word. Do you think you could tone it down?” Stop joking about it, since that didn’t work, and tell him straightforwardly.

  46. Tanya*

    I intentionally chose a career with a company that does not promote a culture of foul language. However, since I was promoted to a management position about three years ago, I’ve experienced a very profane subculture. General swearing not directed at a person is less offensive than directed cursing. I’m most troubled by the level of religious and sexually oriented cursing. Since I’m in management, I’ve been threatened with not being promotable because I can’t work it out “peer to peer.” Apparently my company does not regulate sexually and religiously offensive outbursts among leadership. I’m seriously considering quitting which is quite unfortunate be use this is the only thing I do not like about my job. It’s just reached the point of being intolerable.

  47. Luna*

    Problem is, people get more and more acustomed to the behavior and expressions of a dark, frustrated and depressed side…..it seems that everyday we are loosing more and more ground and we simply end up accepting that cursing is “proper” of any work enviroment.

  48. Brian*

    My wife works as part of a team in a call centre in Australia. She recently talked with her team leader about the offensive language being used by other team members (both male and female). My wife is not a prude but for her to speak up the profanities must have been bad.
    Today there was an email sent out to all team members by the team leader (about my wife’s discussion)…..the following is part of the email.
    “Guys I know none of you would deliberately try and offend somebody. There have however been a few complaints from others about the language (swearing) going on from our team.
    What I’m asking is that you guys tone it down a little and consider the others who may not share the same sense of humour most of us do.
    Now I’m not going to point fingers”

    So much for being a Leader as if you knew the situation the email was very pointed and I have never thought that using offensive, foul language was part of having a good sense of humour.

    Basically it all comes down to having respect and if you do not respect yourself enough then you will never have the ability to show proper respect to others…..in particular ladies/girls.

    1. Hope*

      I agree. I recently graduated and found a job in a culture where I hear swearing a lot of time not just by co-workers but higher managers as well. I find that offensive and uncomfortable to work in. Not only that, the people at my work are also very unfriendly and even after 5 months of working here, I hardly know anyone. There is no lunch room/kitchen either where people could have socialised!
      Since this is pretty much my first job (apart from 2 work-study positions at school which were highly professional) and its very hard to find a full-time job with little experience, I am just trying to make do with it.

  49. Shazbanga*

    I worked at a private school for several years where if someone said shit when they stubbed their toe, a serious conversation with the boss followed.

    Now I work in agricultural support, and anyone who has spent time with farmers knows that the f-bomb is dropped more frequently than sheep shit. If you don’t feed a curse word into the conversation here and there, the blokes find you too caged and professional, and feel uncomfortable. That’s just how it is.

    It completely depends on the environment!

  50. Angela*

    What is interesting about this topic is that many relate it where they work. Have you considered when you are out with your family to include your kids and the person at the drive thru or in the mall store cuss. No big deal, right. What if everywhere you went that is the majority language. Personally and professionally, it sounds ugly and is just plain unacceptable. But what I am finding is that more people think it is okay if they do not get in trouble for doing it. One day you will. This is not “just how it is”, that is “just how people want it to be”. Next people will pee and poo in public and that will be ok too.

  51. Joey Cagle*

    I realize this article is old, but I just wanted to put in my 2 cents worth.

    I’m originally from North Carolina. Where I’m from, it’s quite unprofessional. And I personally feel it’a quite unprofessional, myself.

    However, I live in southern California now. It’s a very different culture.

    I was a junior web developer at a company in San Diego that did realtor marketing and websites. The CEO regularly used profanity. My co-workers used it on occasion but not so much, some people more than others.

    I worked in a grocery store for a while. It was not the norm on the floor, of course (though it did happen). It happened frequently in the back room and the break room, though.

    And it has happened so frequently with my clients in my freelance web design business. SoCal business people have such potty mouths, even while doing business! This would generally be a no-no where I’m from, so it was quite shocking to me at first.

    Maybe it’s a cultural thing, but it’s a cultural thing I refuse to give into. I still don’t use profanity when working with my clients. It’s rare that I use profanity any other time, too.

    I’ve frequently thought about moving back to North Carolina or elsewhere, somewhere away from southern Calif0ornia, because I never felt I fit in well in southern California culture other than at church. Not that I fit that well in North Carolina’s culture, but at least on a professional level, probably more so than what I do here in southern California.

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