my coworker drops F-bombs all day long

A reader writes:

My office has a loose, casual, wacky, mostly fun vibe. We’re in close quarters in one big room. Things can get raucous. Virtually all of us — including me — swear. We have a newish employee —I’ll call her Jill— and this is her first job out of college; she had zero office experience. Jill sits a few feet from me, as does her supervisor.

Here’s the thing: Jill drops F-bombs ALL DAY, every day, loudly, and much more than anyone else on our team. When she was brand new, she didn’t, but I guess as she heard the occasional “f*ck” from others, she figured she could, too. And now, a couple months in, it just never stops — she hits the double digits, daily, and almost exclusively various forms of “f*ck.”  She’s not swearing *at* people, except when she’s talking back to her emails. (Also constant; she bitches about virtually every email she receives. She receives most of her work by email.)

The barrage is making me crazy. I don’t have any power over her. I can’t make her tone it down. Her boss is loath to correct her behavior in general — it took a long time for her to speak to Jill about her overly revealing clothes; and she swears a fair amount, too, so my asking her to intercede isn’t likely to go well. Jill is a nice person, does a good job, and is well liked. But she doesn’t know how to behave in an office environment, even one as loose as ours. I just can’t deal with her mouth anymore. Any ideas?

Try this: “Hey, Jill, can you rein in the F-bombs? We’re all fine with a little profanity here, but it’s jarring to hear it so constantly.”

Frankly, you’d be doing her a favor. She’s picked up on the fact that some swearing is okay, but she hasn’t picked up on any nuance, like that a barrage of it is differently from occasional usage. Or that constant swearing at her emails is going to be annoying and disruptive to other people. And it’s very possible that it’s making her look like she has bad judgment to others around her — or will when she goes to her next job or gets a new boss at this one.

I say that as someone who likes to swear. But you’ve got to calibrate it according to time and place.

Plus, even if she weren’t swearing, loudly complaining every time she receives an email is a really bad way to operate in an office. It’s going to make her come across as incredibly negative or unhappy with her job, even if she doesn’t intend it that way. And doing it in her first job out of school? That is really … not good. If you happen to have good rapport with her and think she’d be receptive to advice from you, it would be a kindness to discreetly tell her that.

But all of that aside, if the constant F-bombs and their accompanying negativity are jarring to you, that all by itself is justification for asking her to stop. Even if she weren’t using any profanity but was loudly expressing non-profane vitriol at her email all day, you’d be on solid ground asking her to stop that too. It’s really unpleasant to sit downwind from a steady stream of negativity, and you can ask her to cut it out.

{ 318 comments… read them below or add one }

      1. Mockingjay

        Ditto. I swore an incredible amount, including F-bombs, until I left ExToxic Job. When I started dropping F-bombs at home, too, that’s when I knew it was really, really time to leave that job.

        Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        From Dr Johnny’s cat: We have this new coworker who noticed that things are really chill around this office, and now he tries to sit or type on the good napping spots. All the time!

        Reply
      1. Nicelutherangirl

        I think Sam Elliott used up his lifetime allotment of f-words during the filming of “A Star is Born”. So did Brad Cooper.

        Reply
    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

      I seem to have days that I call ‘longshoreman days’. You know those days where you swear like a long shoreman… just me?

      Thankfully I limit them to quiet days in the office when no one is around usually. But yeah, there are days that the effenheimer flies freely!

      Reply
      1. TardyTardis

        Klingon is really good for cursing, though. You can say, ‘which way to the library’ in Klingon and sound like you’re disemboweling something.

        Reply
    2. Temperance

      But for the age thing, um, yes. My office is very heavy on the f-bombs in general, though, so I fit right in. LOL

      Reply
    3. Scooby-Doo

      100%- I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the revealing clothes part. Guess that means I should watch my mouth more!

      Reply
    4. LGC

      I have no f-ing idea what you’re f-ing talking about.

      (I’m from the Northeast. There are two words that I can construct sentences out of without using any other word: “Buffalo” and the f-word.)

      Reply
    5. Lia

      I thought it was about my co-worker, who has been counseled several times on her LOUD swearing. She blames it on the fact that she moved from academia to the administrative side of the house and well, it’s hard getting used to our “rules”.

      Reply
      1. NotAnotherManager!

        My guess was my cousin, who never met a word she couldn’t work “fuck” into somehow.

        She’s an associate pastor now in a church with a Southern congregation that skews Boomer-aged right now, and yet I’m not sure she’s lost the pottymouth. (Last we spoke, she told me she was pretty sure more had an issue with their spiritual leader being a woman than her less-than-ladylike vocabulary.)

        Reply
    6. PizzaDog

      I know someone who got fired for something like this (loudly complaining / swearing when looking at e-mails), so I was wondering if this was somehow her.

      Reply
    7. Anonny

      I am one of those people for whom the f-word (in its gerund form) is basically warning that a noun is coming, so…

      Reply
    8. Adjuncts Anonymous

      Not me. I’m not allowed to curse at work, unless I’m teaching my students what the words mean. I teach ESL at a community college, and college policy is no cursing, not even in the teachers’ break room. Must be nice…

      Reply
    9. Wait, what?

      My name is Jill, I just started a new job, and I do love a good cuss word. The rest of the details didn’t line up though, so, whew.

      Reply
    10. Ellen

      Today, I dropped a 25 pound box of frozen blueberries that promptly split open in the freezer of the hospital where I work. Yes. So many bad words.

      Reply
    11. AKchic

      If I weren’t a freshly graduated intern and the OP also happened to be complaining about clothing being vaguely “unprofessional” without specifics – I’d say it was my mother writing in about me.

      However, my mother can happily tolerate the *men* swearing no problem. It’s women, and more importantly, *me* she gets prudish about when it comes to swearing.
      And let’s not discuss her idea of what “professional dress” is. She will wear loose jean shorts and sleeveless button-down cotton shirts with sandals to the office (“I’m too hot, this is comfortable!”) but tells me I’m unprofessional in dark jeans, a blouse and a cardigan (which I wore in many professional settings, no problem). She just wants to pick out my clothes and have overall approval.
      *sigh* I’m at BEC stage with my mother.

      Reply
    12. Ozma the Grouch

      HAHAHA… I do have a tendency to “speak freely”. But since I’ve become “management” I have been much better about keeping a lid on my language at work.

      Reply
    13. chi type

      Me! On the one hand I feel like I should try to tone it down but on the other I feel that that bridge is a pile of smoldering ash so I might as well let ‘er fuckin’ rip!

      Reply
  1. GRA

    I’m a huge fan of the f-bomb … in the right circumstances. All day, every day at work, is not one of them. Jill might not realized she’s using it so often, so discretely pointing it out would be a kindness I think.

    Reply
    1. East Coast Girl

      Excellent point. It is very plausible she doesn’t realize how frequently she uses it.

      Somewhere during second year university I transitioned from using the occasional well placed curse to sounding like a seasoned sailor and/or pirate. My mother pointed this out because, well, my lack of a filter needed pointing out.

      Reply
    2. Boo Hoo

      I once sliced my finger off, nail and all, at work and my business partner said “ladies don’t curse”. I looked at him, replied “F U” and walked away. We had massive issues he was a complete POS and that comment, just no. Plus, cutting ones finger off is a pretty good time to say it. Also, he had told all my employees i was out having an abortion the week I took out for surgery…back surgery, because i didn’t tell him specifically what surgery. Frankly I would have but he didn’t ask. I really didn’t mind anyone knowing I was having back surgery even if it happened to not be their business. Just context for why I would actually tell someone to FU at work. It was long deserved. And yes I told him quite a few choice words about the surgery thing too…think me in his office screaming at him. I’d have sued the company if it wasn’t also my company. I am a pretty calm, level headed person but that man….let’s just say if he went missing, you should question me first.

      Reply
      1. JSPA

        Running out of fingers myself (and I still have all 10) counting the ways this guy violated every business norm, not to mention norms of human decency.

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        1. Boo Hoo

          Ya he was a completely horrible human in just about every way possible.

          Oh and the finger was reattached perfectly. I didn’t cut it completely off but did a pretty darn good job trying.

          Reply
            1. Boo Hoo

              He was a co owner but I no longer own any, got my pay out and he has been sued about a dozen times over now so that gives me pleasure. I have had to give a few depositions for his lawsuits and things like this have come up so it makes him look pretty bad…not that he needed much help with that.

              Reply
              1. Observer

                I was going to ask about this. I’m so glad you’re not working with him any more. He sounds like a nightmare both as a person and as a business risk.

                Reply
      2. Elizabeth

        Well, he’s right, you know. Ladies don’t curse, and I’ve had the same line fed to me. That’s why I always respond with:

        “Good thing I’m not a f*cking lady.”

        Reply
          1. AKchic

            I have this phrase on a coffee mug in my office. My mother hates it, for obvious reasons.

            I also have “World’s Okayest Employee”. She’s not thrilled about that one either. There is simply no pleasing her.

            Reply
      3. Falling Diphthong

        Actual science: Cursing helps you endure pain.

        Mythbusters confirmed this, measuring how long you could hold your hand in ice water while either cursing like a sailor or saying “good golly” or something along that line.

        (Flip side: to fulfill their function in society, the words have to BE bad–if all words are okay and people shouldn’t get hung up on society’s definitions of good and bad words, then you won’t have anything to say when you fall into ice water.)

        Reply
        1. TardyTardis

          Cursing also helps you put together bicycles. It’s a known property of basic hand tools that they work better with profanity. Air Force story–I went to field training through AFROTC, and came back with a Vocabulary. I then asked my mother-in-law to pass the potatoes, with extra optional description, and she was aghast, I tell you, aghast. Now my father-in-law, who had been in the Navy, nearly had a stroke laughing so hard…

          Reply
      4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        What the hell is with people telling everyone in the office a coworker’s out for abortion? I had an ex whose manager told that to everyone in the office about the ex’s then-wife. Wife was pregnant with twins and was in and out of doctors’ offices due to a difficult pregnancy, iirc. It was the American Deep South, so everyone in the office was as horrified as you would expect the people in the Deep South to be. Ex said he walked into the office and was suddenly getting the stinkeye from everybody and did not know why. I believe he complained up the chain about that and there were consequences for the manager, but WHY did he (or your business partner) think it was a great idea do this in the first place?

        Reply
    3. Cedarthea

      My mother always described profanity, particularly the f-bomb, as a “non-renewable resource” as in, if you use it to much it’s power will be gone and you can’t get it back.

      It can be a great resource as long as it’s not all tired out from using it all the time!

      Reply
      1. Anon From Here

        … and this is how my (now adult) son knew when I was truly upset. When he was born, I re-trained myself to say things like “Rats!” and “Wow!” all the time, so when I super infrequently dropped something more blue, he knew that there was something serious happening.

        Reply
        1. Mimi Me

          I’m a pretty vocal person. When I get going on something I’m passionate about I can have a louder than usual volume. Except when I’m pissed – I go quiet. I didn’t actually realize that it was noticeable until last year when my kids had friends over. They all left their shoes in the hallway and I kind of got loud and lecture-y about the dangers of shoes in walkways, etc. My daughter told me that her friend was ready to call her mom to pick her up because I seemed mad. My daughter told her “she’s not mad. She’s loud. It’s when she lowers her voice and gets intense that you need to be worried.” I like to call it “Going Liam Neeson”. LOL!

          Reply
        2. Hills to Die on

          I have them all!
          Son of a biscuit
          Mother forker
          Son of a motherless goat
          Bullshirt
          Ashole (Thank you, The Good Place for that one)
          Jesus Tapdancing Christ (do not say this in front of church friends)

          Reply
        3. Freddled Gruntbuggly

          I’d never been much of a curser growing up; my parents seldom did, and then nothing more than the occasional ‘shit’ or ‘damn.’ In college I tended to absorb and use those my friends employed, and had to be careful they didn’t slip out unintended in moments of stress. Nobody swore at work, ever, that I remember; and my husband saved his mostly for exasperation around the house. When he and a friend replaced the ball joints on our car, I heard words and phrases I didn’t know he even knew!

          Discovered later that little pitchers indeed have big ears and bigger spouts, so we euphemised for a couple of decades… Mork’s “shazbot!” was a particularly satisfying mouth-filling substitute, with all the correct consonants and a couple vowel changes; that and some Mad Magazine vocabulary often filled the bill. I was also adept at garbling up nonsense words and launching fierce-sounding phrases; still can, though once the boys hit their teens and laughed at the very idea that the Very Bad Words of my dinosaur-age past were offensive to anyone’s ears these days, a number of VBW crept back into my vocabulary. I do, however, try to save the biggie for really fitting occasions, lest it lose its power.

          Reply
          1. TardyTardis

            Oh, I used that too, especially when my 2-year-old was in the same room when I discovered there was an earwig in the toe of my pantyhose (after I had put it on).

            Reply
      2. Solidus Pilcrow

        This is how I view swearing, !exclamation points!, and bolding. Used sparingly in the correct context they add needed emphasis and make a point. If!! used!! all! the! damn!!!!!!! time! they!!!!!!! become! meaningless!!!!!!!!

        Reply
            1. Classic Rando

              My job entails answering email-based support tickets, and for a while we had a rash of clients who would capslock at us with long paragraphs and run-on sentences that said a lot without really meaning anything. It got so frustrating that I eventually wrote a knowledge base article about why they shouldn’t do any of that. I haven’t had to link to it in a while, so I guess it helped lol

              Reply
          1. Ralkana

            Our computer system at work only accepts input in caps lock. People don’t toggle it off before they send emails. My inbox is full of people shouting at each other aimlessly. It is so annoying!

            Reply
      3. UndercoverLibrarian

        This! The first time I ever swore in front of my mother, she gave me that over-the-glasses Look(TM) that mothers do so well and told me, “That is a good word. But you *only* use it when no other word will do.” It was an important lesson in really understanding that words mean things, and they shouldn’t be wasted.

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      4. PhyllisB

        That’s kind of my take on swearing. If you do it all the time, what do you say when you’re really upset? That particular word is not one I use. In fact, I rarely swear at all, but when I do, my family ducks for cover because they know something’s bad wrong.

        Reply
    4. SKA

      It’s definitely possible she doesn’t realize it. I have trained myself to swear very very rarely at work. But in my personal life I swear casually without thinking about it… which, as an early thirtysomething, now means often following that up with “Oh no! I’m sorry! I forgot your kid was in the room!”

      Reply
      1. justsomeone

        THIS. Luckily all my friends kids are still too small to pick up words, but it’s something I am starting to train myself out of more.

        Reply
        1. The New Wanderer

          Ooh, I had to tell my husband that my 4 yr old son might have picked up a bad word on our drive home and may be repeating it at some point, so please, please don’t react or he’ll keep doing it. Fortunately, he seems to have forgotten that particular word… for now.

          But if I can code switch between driving alone (and swearing like it’s breathing) and driving with kids (using alternate phrasing), then Jill can learn what an appropriate level of swearing is.

          Reply
    5. NotAnotherManager!

      Me, too. It loses it’s power if you use it all the time, but I walked into my boss’s office a few months ago after the cherry on top of a maddening experience sundae and announced, “I am about to let loose a parade of obscenities, but I ASSURE YOU, it’s TOTALLY appropriate to the situation.” And then let loose.

      Reply
  2. Antilles

    If I saw/heard someone complaining about every single email they received, I would assume she’s either (a) completely unprofessional or (b) completely and utterly miserable in her position.

    Reply
      1. Czhorat

        We all do, but we don’t constantly whine about them. The stream of negativity is something which makes the environment worse, both for the complainer and those who need to listen to them.

        Reply
        1. irene adler

          Exactly. It’s not all about you, so to speak, so rein in the complaining. It does affect others. And not in a good way.

          Reply
    1. JokeyJules

      eh, maybe she’s one of those “misery loves company” people who thinks that’s the best way to connect with her coworkers.

      I mean, she would be wrong to think that, but it is a possibility.

      Reply
      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        I would guess that she’s still expanding her frame of reference.

        I know that early on in my career things seemed OMG bad! or HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN! and if I were to see the same thing now I’d be like ‘Eh… ‘ if I even noticed it.

        Reply
        1. Genny

          Agreed. People who are new to the workplace tend to pick up on things and then take it to an 11. When I started working, I heard people complain all the time about how many emails they received. In my mind, the appropriate response was to drop people from the CC line so that they’d have less emails. Unfortunately, that resulted in people not getting the information they needed. When I hear people complain about the amount of emails they get now, I just give a brief chuckle/commiserate a bit and change absolutely nothing about what I’m doing, because now I know their complaint isn’t about me and I don’t need to fix it.

          It sounds like Jane is doing something similar. People in this office curse? I’ll curse too to fit in, and the more I curse, the more I’ll fit in. People in this office occasionally complain about their emails? I’ll complain too to fit in. Look at me complaining about all my emails just like a real officer worker. She just doesn’t have enough experience to moderate the swearing/complaining and/or know when it’s a good time to use select swears/complaints. You absolutely don’t have to be her manager to have a friendly chat with her about how she’s being perceived.

          Reply
    2. Falling Diphthong

      Some people use griping as a form of social bonding, where people are expected to join in the fest. But the exact amount that is correct to fit in is deeply group dependent. It can be just like the swearing in this thread–new worker notices “Hey, people gripe when they get emails, that’s a social rule! I should gripe when I get emails! Look, there’s one now!”

      Reply
    1. tink

      An old boss of mine used to creatively spell out swears (a leftover from trying not to swear in front of their children), so occasionally you’d hear a loud “SUGAR HONEY ICED TEA” and you knew something had just gone really sour.

      Reply
      1. The Original K.

        I kind of love this! I’ve known people (including my family) who substitute words for swears that start with the same sound, e.g. sugar, fudge, etc., but I’ve never come across the creative spelling!

        Reply
      2. she was a fast machine

        There was a comedian we like who did a bit about swearing in his mom’s house and it was always sugar honey iced tea and flying ugly chinese kick…needless to say we’ve adopted part of it in our house!

        Reply
      3. loslothluin

        I’ve heard:

        “God bless America and all the ships at sea.”
        “Son of a sea biscuit.”
        “I’ll be dog.”
        “Dod dern.”

        Reply
          1. Mimi Me

            I worked at Disney World a few years ago and had an interaction with a guest and child. The kid told me something (don’t remember what) but it was one of those stories where he wanted a wildly surprised reaction from the person he was talking to. He finished the story and I said “Shut the front door! No way!” The dad told me that I surprised him because he did not think that the expression would have a G rated ending. LOL! Still makes me laugh!

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      4. SarahKay

        I like “Unprintables!”, taken from reading Asterix books where the swear words would be represented as something like #$#!*&#

        Reply
          1. Alex the Alchemist

            May or may not have done that when helping at a vacation Bible school once. “Oh shhhhhhh- curseword!”

            Reply
      1. Cedarthea

        I’m a fan of “Fuster Cluck” for a “Cluster F***”, also, in the spirit of The Good Place, I’ve tried to start adding “holy mother forking shirt balls” just for fun.

        Reply
          1. Amber T

            There is no way I’d be able to say either of those without my brain automatically defaulting to the bad words! My brain even read them as what you would expect them to be, and my immediate thought was, “how are these any better??”

            I’m laughing really hard over “buck a fuzzard,” honestly, because I honestly can’t say it.

            Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        The Texans in my office say “goat rodeo” is a nicer version of “goatfuck,” which is apparently their version of a “cluster fuck.” I just say things are a “cluster” and let people fill in the implied f-bomb that follows.

        Reply
    2. Archie Goodwin

      I used to belong to a forum where people had a habit of creating new curses by sticking two words (one of them blue) together, and I developed the habit myself a bit. I still find myself muttering “s**tmittens” now and again.

      In the Old Country, my mother once worked with an Englishman who had taken to adopting the names of some Russian cities as minced oaths. He was quite partial to “Pskov”, as I understand.

      Reply
    3. Be the Change

      I’m sure I’ve posted this somewhere before — my favorite is “Badam pista!!!!” It means “almonds pistachios” but sounds quite vicious with the right intonation.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        If you’re going to curse in Punjabi/Hindi, I’m a big fan of bewakoof (pronounced “bave” like “Dave” and then “koof” like “loofa”), which gets some of the harder consonants that the f-word contains.

        Reply
      2. Mimi Me

        My friend says that when her daughter was in pre-school she used to tell people off by saying “Pixie Dust” intensely at people.

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      3. Eeyore's missing tail

        Oh my sainted aunt! My husband’s nickname is Badam. I had no idea is was a word in another language. I’m going to have so much fun with this.

        Reply
    4. Liane

      When my kids were little, I would use Phooey instead of F Bomb, because in 4th grade I read a book about the first Seeing Eye dog and it said Phooey was the word his trainer used to correct him. I still use it sometimes.

      Reply
      1. Cedarthea

        My German-speaking Oma would say that do her dogs all the time, so it’s not just in books. I know in some cases they train dogs in languages that aren’t commonly spoken so the dog won’t be pulled off track by someone who is not the handler.

        She was the one who taught me my first swear words, they were German but they worked.

        Reply
    5. CupcakeCounter

      My BIL got us all saying muckatucka. Can’t remember where it came from but I feel like whale blubber might be involved.

      Reply
    6. Dance-y Reagan

      I love cursing in other languages…often the translation isn’t even profane. It’s like cheating and being multicultural at the same time.

      Reply
  3. Autumnheart

    As a recovering F-bomber myself, I would say to the Jills of the world that being known as the employee with the potty mouth is not the kind of reputation that you want to cultivate. You want to be known for your work and expertise, and if people are so busy paying attention to your profanity, they’re gonna miss what you really bring to the job. That would be a tragedy.

    Reply
    1. TypityTypeType

      So agree. I worked at a music magazine for a while, and that crowd were the most pottymouthed group I ever worked with. (And if you want to hear *really* imaginative obscenities, spend some time with radio DJs. Many of them use language off the air that could curl your hair and break your glasses.)

      Reply
      1. TypityTypeType

        And, I meant to say, of course that distorts one’s sense of what’s appropriate. When I got a less media-related job, I had to learn once again to dial it back — and I was far from among the worst!

        Reply
      2. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived

        I agree. You definitely don’t want to be the one who swears significantly more than the office norm. Having said that I swear more than any of my co-workers. My strategy is to match swear levels as much as possible and also respect stated personal feelings on swear words.
        Examples:
        1. When with my friend who doesn’t care if you swear unless it involves God or Jesus: try very hard not to use those swear words and apologize when I slip up.
        2. With my parents: say “shit” but not the f-word as they do not say the f-word
        3. With my friends: swear a lot as they either swear the same amount or find it hilarious
        4. With others: try to swear less and keep most expletives to a quiet voice
        4. Alone in my office: unleash a torrent of swear words detailing the many faults of JavaScript, Internet Explorer, and/or current quality of data that would make a pirate blush.
        … This letter could be about me… bring it up with me at work and I promise to simmer down.

        Final fun fact, the term F-bomb was coined by legendary Expos/Mets catcher Gary Carter when explaining why he was thrown out of a baseball game.

        Reply
    2. Middle School Teacher

      Yup. Can you imagine:

      “You need to go see Jill for that information.”

      “Oh, which Jill? Jill C or Jill M?”

      “Jill C. You know, Eff Off Jill. That Jill.”

      Reply
    3. Professional Merchandiser

      I don’t swear myself, but I realize adults are free to express themselves in whatever manner they please, but I was working with a reset crew one time, and one of the men kept swearing so much that I finally told him to rein it in because I was afraid we were going to get thrown out of the store. (And yes, store managers can and do tell merchandisers/vendors to leave for unprofessional conduct.) He apologized to me and got a lot better after that.

      Reply
      1. Professional Merchandiser

        If we had been in an office with other like-minded co-workers, I wouldn’t have said anything, Wouldn’t have liked hearing it, but I’m not his mother :) However, we were representing our company and I felt like this was totally unprofessional.

        Reply
  4. The Original K.

    It sounds like Jill is someone who curses all the time in her personal life, recognized that she shouldn’t go into an office that way, and then was relieved when she heard the office cursing, like “Great! I can be me.” If she curses all the time in her personal life, she may really not realize how often she does it because she’s so inured to it, and she’s certainly not going to stop on her own because as far as she knows, her language is in line with the rest of the team’s. Pointing out that it isn’t is the only way to get her to change her behavior.

    Reply
    1. JokeyJules

      What other way could they get her to change her behavior?

      I agree that she likely doesn’t realize how much she is doing it. Just mention that it seems like it’s been a bit excessive, and to tone it down.

      Reply
    2. pcake

      I dunno – when I read the original post, I thought perhaps she’s swearing to fit in and isn’t alert to the nuances of how much swearing is a good fit.

      Reply
    3. Polymer Phil

      I made the exact same mistake. After two jobs at big companies with conservative workplace cultures, I started a position at a smaller company. I was shocked to see my boss, grandboss, and HR manager all telling each other filthy jokes that would have had the folks at my previous jobs needing a fainting couch and smelling salts. I had the exact same thought: “Great, I can be me here!”

      What I failed to notice was that my boss, grandboss, and the HR manager talked like this to each other, not openly in front of everyone. I ended up finding out the hard way that there were indeed office norms I had been trampling all over; they were just different from those in my past jobs.

      Reply
  5. Murphy

    Oh no…I swear quite a lot in my personal life (though I’ve been working on toning it down now that my daughter is speaking…and starting to imitate) but that level of profanity is not OK, in most workplaces anyway.

    Some frustration is normal, but you have to reign it in. There are many things at work that I’d like to refer to as “clusterfucks”, but I don’t. Because I am a professional.

    Reply
    1. Bunny Girl

      I swear a lot in my personal life. My friend group all swears, and I mean a lot. Like no one has any problem with the C word a lot.

      But I think beyond the occasional d***, I don’t swear in the office and I don’t especially like swearing that much in most professional office settings. I actually used to work in an office where someone swore so much and so loudly that I asked to have my desk moved because it was really jarring. I was told that “Oh he doesn’t mean it; he’s from New York”. LoL wut.

      Reply
    2. the gold digger

      I am not as professional as I would like to be.

      I told my boss, “F*** you!” last Friday late in the day and flipped him off during an argument.

      Monday morning, first thing, I apologized. I told him my behavior had been completely unacceptable and it would not happen again.

      He had no idea what I was talking about.

      I reminded him. He shrugged, said he didn’t remember.

      So – does that mean he was caught up in his own drama and didn’t even notice? Or does it mean that yeah, that’s kind of what he expects from me?

      I hope the former.

      Reply
    3. LawBee

      the “picking up and repeating swear words” is my favorite baby age. :D When my cousin was 4, he introduced himself to the nun at his kindergarten by shaking her hand and saying he was “goddamn glad to meet her”. My aunt was MORTIFIED.

      Reply
      1. Bunny Girl

        Oh my god. I have no idea why but I think little kids swearing is so funny. I would have died.
        I still remember the first time I dropped “The F-Bomb.” I was in 2nd grade and asked my mom to “Pass the f**king potatoes.” Dinner never stopped so sharply.

        Reply
  6. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius

    When I was interviewing for a job right out of college, I heard everyone around me at the company swearing so I thought I should too, in order to show that I could fit in with their culture. I grew up in a religious house where my parents still bristle at “dang” “shoot” and “stupid” so I don’t even know if I was using the words properly! Needless to say I didn’t get that job, and I wish I discovered AAM years before I did so that I could have figured this one out earlier.

    I can only imagine that Jill is swearing to fit in as well but taking it too far. If I were her (and I have almost been her), I would want to know! Please tell her OP, if she gets offended it won’t last long and will ultimately benefit her in the long run.

    Reply
    1. Beatrice

      I grew up in a similar household, and one of my nicknames in college was Shucky Darn, because I couldn’t bring myself to use real swear words, and my use of the substitute words was remarkably awkward.

      I am now fluent in advanced profanity, although I rein it in most of the time. Occasionally, on a really terrible day, I go home and drop a private rant to my husband that is about 75% bleepable, but at work I probably only swear audibly a couple of times a week.

      Reply
      1. PhyllisB

        No one’s ever called me Shucky Darn, but they very well could have. My usual bad word is D—it!! but since I have grand-children living with me, I usually use Dadgum it, Phooey, or Darn it. I have occasionally said something was a real cluster, but that’s about as far as I go.
        One funny story I’ve shared before: when my children were young, we had a friend who used to say he had a bad case of CRS. Of course, my kids wanted to know what that meant, so I told them it meant Can’t Remember Stuff. That was all well and good until one of them told their teacher they had a bad case of CRS. *cringe.* I got called to the school and it took some fast talking to keep them from sending him to in-school.

        Reply
      2. Marthooh

        My siblings and I went through an early-teen phase of using “shucky darn!” as a sarcastic swear, and Mom picked up on it: “Shucky darn, as my kids say!”

        We stopped saying that.

        Reply
  7. Nay

    Do Jill a favor and introduce her to the blog so she can understand regular office norms before she goes off to another job!

    Reply
  8. MLB

    I would focus mostly on the constant negativity if you’re going to speak to her, with an addition about her constant F bombs. I’m a potty mouth, but don’t curse 100% of the time. And people who use the F bomb like a comma drive me insane. There’s a time for it, and always is not that time. Being that she’s new to an office environment, she needs to rein it in. It should fall to her manager to correct the behavior, but it’s completely ok for you to say something as well in this case.

    Reply
    1. Mockingjay

      Second this suggestion on addressing the negativity. Likely the negativity stems from feelings of inadequacy or uncertainty about her role and workplace norms, which is very common for a first ‘real’ job.

      Jill isn’t the OP’s to manage, but some mentoring in office norms would be a kindness.

      Reply
  9. Czhorat

    That’s a pain in the fucking ass.

    While the constant swearing is unprofessional and inappropriate in most settings, I think the constant negativity is worse; it sets a negative tone for the entire work environment. I wholeheartedly agree with Alison’s advice to gently let her know that and will add that trying to talk her down off the ledge with more extreme examples might help adjust her tone.

    Good fucking luck with this one.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      I’m also wondering if there’s some extra violence in her tone of voice behind those F-words.

      I find that harder even than just hearing the word. It’s kind of scary, actually, no matter whether the person using that angry tone of voice is nonthreatening or threatening, one gender or the other, tiny or big.

      It’s so unregulated! And unregulated people are scary.

      Reply
      1. Reba

        Yeah, there can be an important distinction between swearing for color in conversation and swearing in exclamation of anger or frustration. It’s the latter that can be unsettling and is over the top for ordinary email management.

        Reply
        1. Ralkana

          Yes, this! Swearing is not out of place where I work – we hear casual profanity all the time. The only two times I can remember being alarmed by it were a) when an argument between two managers got heated and they were swearing at each other VERY loudly and viciously, and b) when one of the sales reps was in the back sales office by himself and he was ranting at his computer for a good 5-10 minutes because it wasn’t working right, and I don’t think he realized how far his voice was carrying. Both were far more about the tone of voice than the words.

          Reply
    2. Jennifer Thneed

      You know, I like your comments generally, and this one made me actually laugh out loud. (I’m at home with only the kittens to annoy.)

      Reply
  10. Stella70

    This reminds me of a woman I worked with once who was very straight-laced, proper, and professional at all times. However, when things went downhill in a big way, she would mutter, “Well, weren’t we just handed the sh*tty end of the stick?”….but she would still say it in her calm, quiet voice, which made it all the more hysterical.

    Reply
  11. Ruth (UK)

    I used to swear a lot (esp right after uni) and made a conscious effort to stop. I was surprisingly hard to do! I said ‘shit’ the most but occasionally the f-word too. I have never really used the c-word except on some very rare occasions.

    It might be difficult for Jill to stop if she doesn’t have much personally motivation to do so as these things can tend to slip out if you’re not putting much conscious effort into stopping it. The fact that other people swear and therefore that she’s hearing it a lot won’t help.

    I still think it’s ok for you to say something though – and I agree it sounds like she’s swearing too much!

    Until recently I was using “oh shoot” a lot until I found out people were sometimes mishearing it as ‘shit’ still. Now I most commonly say “oh dear” “oh no” “poo” or “oh poo” which I guess all seem a bit pathetically soft in typing them out but I think they suit me.

    A friend of mine regularly exclaims “good grief!” and “oh for crying out loud!” which I quite like, but I’ve never especially used them myself…

    I think it can help (if someone wants to stop swearing) to pre-think about what they’re going to say instead.

    Reply
    1. SaraV

      I’m not a swearer, and certainly wasn’t in my school-age years. I still remember stepping on the bus to head home from high school, and the bus was already pretty full. (I’d have to squeeze 3 to a seat for the first stop or two) I muttered “Well, shoot…” standing right next to the bus driver, and she says “What did you just say?!” “‘Well, shoot.'” “No, you swore!” “I did not!” (Luckily, she let me go because I could have gotten written up/detention for that)

      All that to lead up to that my new found exclamation of frustration is “Drat!” Can’t be misconstrued for anything else.

      Reply
      1. Ruth (UK)

        I find it interesting you could have got in trouble (at school) for swearing on the bus. I’ve realised since my initial reaction that [assuming you’re in the USA], American schools have school buses (that are for a specific school? maybe?) so she’d have potentially been able to contact the school but it still seems (to me) a bit of an overreach of the school to police swearing when you’re not even at school yet.

        (Here, only some schools for children with special needs would have buses. Most kids take the public bus to school so you can swear as much as you like – well, possibly not, but at least you’d not likely get in trouble over it once you got to school).

        Reply
        1. SarahKay

          Depends where you are – I’m in the UK, but both my primary and high schools were in a rural area, so we had school buses which about 80% of the pupils (i.e. all the ones that didn’t live actually in the same town as the school) would use.

          Reply
        2. TootsNYC

          there are no public buses in any rural town, and few small cities have public transport.

          I live in NYC, and public transit is the way kids get around–but there’s not much in the way of public transit in less crowded places.

          School buses are administered by the school district, so the driver isn’t just “able to contact the school”; she works for the school. And any misbehavior on the bus is considered a school discipline problem.

          The moment you set foot on that bus (often, the moment you arrive at the bus stop), you are considered to be “at school”–the school is now responsible for the safety of every child on that bus, and bad behavior is considered to be a school issue.

          And in schools more so than any other arena I’ve encountered, there’s a strong focus on the “leading edge of the wedge” concept in behavior, the idea that allowing small misbehaviors will rapidly lead to kids thinking bigger misbehaviors are OK.

          Reply
        3. The Tin Man

          In the US it is very common to have school buses, especially since most of the country geographically is rural/suburban areas where there is no public bus. I grew up in the suburbs of a major US city and if you lived more than something like 2 miles (can’t remember the distance well) from your school you could get picked up by the bus going to your school. We were close enough to walk every day but I knew some students who did take the bus.

          My aside aside, the bus is affiliated with the school or school district and I believe the bus driver was a school employee so it would be like any other non-teacher staff member getting you in trouble because of misbehavior.

          I am sure there are many variations to my hometown but wanted to give some background. In short, the US doesn’t have a lot of public buses so buses specific to a school or school district are a common thing. Less so sometimes in urban areas with existing public transit.

          Reply
        4. On Fire

          I’m not the person you were replying to, but many U.S. schools have buses that are for that school’s students only. The bus is school property; the driver is a school employee. Thus, swearing on the bus, in front of the driver, is no different from swearing in the classroom, in front of the teacher.

          Reply
      1. Jennifer Thneed

        My MIL used to have a mouth like a sailor, and still does when appropriate, but she taught high-school English for about 10 years and you’d better believe that she retrained her mouth to use all the “old-fashioned” swears. Like dang, drat, darn it, etc.

        Me, I tend to use bad language, and I mean that literally. “Oh, that just makes me want to use bad language!” certainly expresses my feelings well. It’s often followed with “It is just so frustrating!”

        Reply
        1. Jennifer Thneed

          (This wasn’t actually directly related, so I pulled it out into this reply:

          (At some point in college I discovered that people respond better to descriptions than to labels. So when looking for houses to live in, I’d say things like “I like to date women” rather than “I’m gay”. People take in the information without whatever kneejerk reaction to the label they might have. Never fear, I wasn’t closeted. That was just for housemate interviews.)

          Reply
  12. Baby Fishmouth

    I do have to wonder (although of course we don’t know OP’s gender) if it is more jarring to her because Jill is a young woman. I am a fairly young woman who swears decently often (although I’m pretty good at knowing the appropriate time and place), and I know I’ve caught people off guard before with swear words because some people have some outdated notion that women shouldn’t swear at all. I think sometimes it registers more with people if it’s a woman who swears than if it’s a man, even if they don’t realize that’s what is happening!

    That may not be what’s going on here at all, but it might be something for OP to be aware of! Although Jill certainly does need to tone down the being annoyed and swearing at every email part.

    Reply
    1. Hiring Mgr

      That might be part of it… There’s a woman I work with who is probably in her late 20s, but she’s very young looking (like around 19 or so), and also quite petite, and very fair skinned on top of that. So when she swears it seems more jarring than if a grizzled old goat like me was doing it. She only does it occasionally so not like OPs colleauge, but still seems more out of place due to her youthful appearance

      Reply
    2. Dust Bunny

      Eh, I don’t necessarily think so. I’m not that young (woman, early 40s) but I’m young enough to have grown up with girls who can sure swear and, frankly, it’s jarring *in a professional setting*, no matter who says it. It’s almost worse from older people who one might think would know better and be less acclimated to it.

      And I’ve seen all the nice things written about people who swear, and I swear, but, sorry, no, it needs to be reined in at work, no matter who you are. I’ve heard my boss drop one or two f-bombs but they were on occasions such as a pipe burst that soaked a dozen shelves of books. Big stuff.

      Reply
      1. Anonygoose

        I’m honestly asking this (so please don’t get angry) – why is cursing such a big deal? I can’t understand that because to me, words are just words and these are words like any other. Obviously I don’t swear around children because I don’t think their parents would like that very much, but I think the forbiddenness of it is what gives those words any sort of power to begin with, so I don’t really rein it in other than around kids.

        Reply
        1. CTT

          Societally we have an understanding that these words are serious in some way, albeit on a sliding scale of taboo-ness for everyone. And I’d argue that the sliding scale is what makes it a big deal. Everyone reacts to those words differently; Jill’s at a place where some swearing is okay now, but she could go to a different work environment or meet with a client who’s really not okay with it and it could negatively impact her. That could be unfair to her, but there’s a significant number of people who don’t like cursing and she’s not in a position to unilaterally change that opinion.

          Also, “words are just words” but the tone behind them is important too. If Jill’s saying “*sigh* the fucking printer’s out of ink again” that’s one thing. If she’s angrily complaining with curse words, then it puts people on edge that she’s about to explode. LW didn’t indicate tone, but if I were sitting next to Jill, I’d be worried how she would react when something actually went wrong if this is her baseline.

          Reply
        2. CTT

          Ugh, I had a comment that disappeared when I hit submit that I’m too lazy to retype in its entirety, but the shirt version was that tone is super important: if she’s saying it in a lighthearted “oh darn!” way that’s one thing, but if she’s saying it angrily that’s another, especially in light of the fact that none of the things she’s reacting too seem that bad. If I were her colleague I’d worry how she would react to an actual work crisis if this is her baseline.

          Reply
        3. Asenath

          “Forbiddenness” can tie into respect/disrespect as well as making swearing appealing because it is forbidden. That is, certain things are seen as forbidden, so using them where they are not expected is demonstrating your disrespect for anyone who might be listening. I say “where not expected’ because behaviour (including verbal behavior) that is disrespectful to strangers, older people or, in fact, anyone in a formal setting can be quite acceptable informally among close friends. Add to that the fact that most swearing refers to something that in and of itself is improper or even forbidden in a formal or public setting- sex, other bodily functions, disrespectful religious references, and so on. All of this means that swearing and cursing carries a LOT of cultural baggage – and I haven’t even mentioned people who will take swearing as a sign of a lack of intelligence since any reasonably smart person could come up with words with actual meanings to refer to those annoying emails – incomplete, insolent, irrelevant, and so on.

          I once spent some time trying to explain to a younger co-worker that his reasoning – “People are expressing their feelings when they say “X” so people who object to “X” are hypocrites because they have the same feelings” was missing some of the nuances of the situation. I suppose the nuances could be summed up as “Don’t annoy your co-workers unnecessarily; you have to get on with them every day”. That was a more conservative job too, and at least he had enough sense to know he shouldn’t swear there – or tell everyone they were being hypocritical by objecting to swearing. I put “X” there because I wasn’t sure if the system would block me if I wrote the word out

          I never swore as a child, picked up some common terms in adolescence, fortunately along with a sense of where and when to swear and now still swear, but try to keep it to myself and to do so fairly infrequently. I don’t want to annoy others, and I don’t want to start defaulting to swearing instead of thinking of better ways to describe or react to whatever is annoying me.

          Reply
        4. TootsNYC

          It’s on the other side of a line.

          And once you’re on that other side of the line, how do we know how far you are willing to go?

          Also: these words are ones that have been defined as “only appropriate for really BIG things.” So when you use them, you are triggering a reaction in other people.

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        5. Czhorat

          Different words are appropriate in different settings.

          Analogy: clothes are just clothes, and sweatpants are appropriate clothes for the gym. That doesn’t mean you’d wear them to the office.

          Reply
    3. Dr. Pepper

      I must say as a young woman I highly enjoyed shocking people with the amount of profanity I can use at the drop of a hat. The number of times I’ve been told “girls shouldn’t swear” is incalculable.

      However, when people repeatedly use profanity over mundane things, it gets old. Really old. I don’t find it jarring so much as annoying. Like, really? You’re that upset over *regular, normal thing* that you need to swear at it? Repeatedly? Or if people use it as a kind of verbal tic, like some people use “like” or “um”, it makes me roll my eyes. You’re not being shocking or subversive, you’re being tiresome.

      Reply
      1. Elfie

        Yup, this is my husband. For everything that annoys him, it’s a loud exclamation of “Oh for f**ks sake!”. It’s really irritating to think that he’s constantly that pissed off at the little things. And it’s just tiring to be around it. I don’t actually have a problem with swearing (I’m with the commenter that words are just words), but constant swearing would get on my nerves too.

        Reply
    4. Statler von Waldorf

      This is absofuckinglutely true. I’m a six foot seven grizzled dude with multiple facial scars, and when I swear in the office, not a single solitary fuck has ever been given. (To be fair, I work in oil & gas, which is very swearing friendly industry.) When my not quite five foot, could pass as a high school student direct report swears, it’s a big fucking deal.

      As a side note, I’m sending positive thoughts and prayers to Alison’s moderation filter, which is probably going to go fucking nuts over the comment section of this question.

      Reply
    5. TootsNYC

      I think I would find it extra jarring–and extra threatening, actually–if it were a man.

      It’s unpleasant either way, but I’ve been around men who used it way too much, and I never felt safe.

      Reply
  13. MusicWithRocksInIt

    I almost never swear – and have found that it gives you *power* – because when you do swear people take notice. “Oh my god – musicwithrocksinit just said the f word! She must be so upset!” People react in shock and awe, which really amuses me because I don’t mind swearing, I just don’t do it. I do wish I could swear in Chinese like in Firefly.

    Reply
    1. CTT

      Yes! No one is ever going to take Jill seriously and offer sympathy or to help when an assignment really is horrible if she reacts to all of them this way. I have a friend who swearingly complains about everything in the same way regardless of severity so I take her way less seriously. It’s not helpful for anyone.

      Reply
    2. The Original K.

      I curse in my personal life but very rarely do at work – it’s part of my code-switching – but on the rare occasions I do curse at work, people are like ” … Yikes, this must be bad.” (I’ve had people apologize for swearing in front of me, which I find hilarious.)

      Reply
      1. Anon From Here

        That was my strategy for child-raising (as I mentioned above — and I still tend to not curse when my adult kid is around), and yes, it works at the office, too.

        Reply
        1. The Original K.

          Ha – I don’t curse in front of my mother because she hates it & never curses. (I occasionally curse in front of my father, who doesn’t care & curses a bit himself.)

          Reply
          1. MusicWithRocksInIt

            My mom used to curse in front of me, then apologize to me, like she had offended me. By the time I was in High School I started telling her “You really think I don’t hear that word ever?” but she still did it until I was in my mid 20’s. I don’t think I’ve ever cursed in front of my mother before – so that’s something to save up for something good.

            Reply
      2. Ralkana

        Yes, it always amuses me greatly when the men at work apologize for swearing in my presence, because I swear ALL the time. My dad hates watching sports with me because I swear at the TV pretty much constantly. I guess it means I swear less at work than I thought I did, actually!

        Reply
    3. TootsNYC

      I still remember the time I was discussing a previous job in a group that contained a colleague who had also worked there. We were explaining it to someone at our new job, and the jerky guy from Old Job was mentioned. I said, “Oh, yes, that fucker” with a little bit of venom.

      The folks from New Job were gobsmacked–they all were so taken aback, because I didn’t generally swear, and I had the reputation of handling frustrating things with equanimity and good humor. I guess I got my point across.
      In fact, it was so powerful that one of the women in that conversation brought it up years later!

      Reply
    4. not really a lurker anymore

      Yes. My Mom doesn’t swear. About 15 years ago we were on a family vacation and she swore. She had multiple teenagers and adults RUNNING to see what was going on and and did she need help with something.

      Reply
  14. Augusta Sugarbean

    How many letters do we get that say “Bob has been here longer than me so I’m not sure I have the standing to ask him to do [task]”? So maybe this could work in your favor. You aren’t her manager but you are the person with more (time) seniority.

    Reply
  15. TeacherLady

    When I was a teenager, I was in a youth group, and one day after a hike, the leader pulled me aside and said, “You’re a tough cookie but you complain a LOT.” And I honestly had NO IDEA I was doing it. I had really enjoyed the hike.

    It was awkward at the time, but I’m still thankful that he said something because it made me aware of a bad habit that I didn’t know I had, and I was able to start noticing when I was doing it and stop.

    It’s possible this person doesn’t realize what she’s doing, or the extent of it, or that anyone notices, or is bothered by it. I think saying something would definitely be a kindness.

    Reply
    1. irene adler

      I think your are right.
      I’ve worked with a few folks who, when I mentioned to them that they were prone to complaining about everything, had one of two responses:

      (1) Oh dear! I didn’t mean to come off sounding like that.

      (2) Yeah. I like to criticize. I feel I need to point things out to people.

      Reply
    2. pleaset

      I’m reminded of what the mother of a close friend once said about me when I was in college “Such as sweet, intelligent boy. But such a foul mouth”

      Reply
    3. Classic Rando

      I had something similar happen in my first full time job. I’d been there a while, and it was retail where every few months some change from tptb would be implemented and shake up our processes. In most cases the changes made sense in some way, and a couple were actually very good, and I’m a quick learner so I’d adapt after a couple days, but for some reason I always complained about them for the first week or so. Until one of my supervisors pointed out that I needed to be more flexible, and I was like, “what? I always learn the new way…” and they said complaining about it made me seem resistant to change. And that stopped my complaining right quick, because I did NOT want to get lumped in with the lifers who actually were resistant to change.

      I imagine that addressing the complaining and negativity should help with the swearing as well. I know my language gets worse as my frustration levels rise, so if she learns to let things go it might mitigate the worst of it.

      Reply
    4. Dragoning

      When I was in high school I had a habit of using a certain slur for disabled people (without realizing it was a slur!), until one of the adults in my youth group heard me say it once, paused thoughtfully, and said, “You know, you say that word a lot.”

      And I can honestly not remember saying it a single time since.

      “You say that word a lot” is powerfully effective for some reason.

      Reply
  16. Dr. Doll

    According to the sexual harassment training that I was forced to click through slooooowwwwllly, because F refers to sexual acts, it can be construed as contributing to a specific hostile environment. I reined it way back in, even from the muttering to myself, at that point. Guess I learned something from the training after all.

    Reply
  17. Dr. Doll

    According to the sexual harassment training that I was forced to click through slowwwwllly, the F word can contribute to that specific kind of hostile environment b/c it refers to a sex act. I reined it way back in at that point, even from muttering to myself. Guess I learned something from that training after all.

    Reply
  18. archikate7

    I also read this letter terrified that it was about me!

    As a woman in a male-dominated field, my defenses go up about Alison’s response. In my field, many MANY men swear. I work with tradesmen and construction workers frequently, but even the men in the office will often drop f-bombs when they’re speaking to one another. I’ve noticed that I, as a young, slight woman often get raised eyebrows and looks of disgust when I swear. Frankly, I think it’s bullshit. I swear much less than them and (IMO) with more creativity to boot. :) To the letter writer, I’d ask you to carefully consider why it is this woman’s swearing bothers you. Are you sure it’s not to do with her age? her gender? her inexperience in general? If those things are playing into your discomfort, I don’t think that’s fair to her.

    Reply
    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

      I understand where you are coming from. But the OP sounds pretty specific, it’s the frequency that this the problem. Jill seems to be outside the norms for the office. So it doesn’t sound like there is anything else at play here.

      Reply
    2. Dr. Pepper

      I’m in a field with a similar culture and I swear a lot more when I’m out “in the field” than I usually do. Mostly to establish that I’m not a “lady” to be tiptoed around and I’ve personally found that once they get over the initial shock, I have less sexist BS to deal with as a whole. There’s always some (grrr), but less is better. Very often these guys have rigid definitions of what a woman should be and if you don’t act like what they expect, they can’t place you in the “lady” box and have to figure out from scratch how to treat you. If I get in there and throw their notion of me on its head, I’m generally not treated as if I’m physically fragile or as if I don’t have skills (I do). They also don’t see you as potential “dating material” as much if you disgust them with your language so I get hit on less. It’s hard to describe but there’s a balance there. Doesn’t always work but overall it’s been pretty effective for me. I wish to heaven we could all be adults and there wasn’t this arbitrary and ridiculous minefield to navigate as a woman in a male-dominated field, but we’re not there yet.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer Juniper

        Thank you! I needed this information and didn’t know it. I spend way too much time worrying about how likeable I am because of internalized misogyny and worries about retaliation from others for not obeying unwritten social rules. This is extra ridiculous because I am 44 and do not work.

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      2. cat tamer

        Dr. Pepper! This +1000. Developed the same technique and as sad as it is it’s working well. I don’t get tiptoed around and get much less hassle than other of my female colleagues who have more “lady” style. One guy I worked with when he was leaving told me “I liked working with you, I could treat you like a man” and he thought it was the best compliment ever. He seriously didn’t see anything wrong saying that. It’s not easy being a woman in some fields…

        Reply
  19. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

    Maybe you can introduce Jill to the concept of TBS swearing? You know the words that are superimposed on movies that are shown on TBS and other stations. I’ve had great success in curbing my natural word choices.

    Instead of “Not that effing problem again!”
    I use “Not that blooming problem again!”

    I would maybe comment on her negativity toward her email and work. “Yo Jill, we get it, you’re mad at your email again. I don’t think grumbling at it is doing you much good. Mind giving it a break?”

    Reply
      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

        hahaha… exactly! BTW the worst movie ever to be broadcast on a not swear friendly station.

        Reply
        1. Amber Rose

          I wish I could take credit for it but it’s from a Starbomb song. If you google image search it, there’s an adorable cartoon of a disco dancing shrimp.

          Reply
  20. Dr. Pepper

    Don’t tell Jill that her constant swearing is “jarring”. She may take it as a complement. Goodness knows how many people I’ve met who think dropping profanity into every single sentence they utter is “badass”. Or swearing at the most mundane of things makes them “cool”. If you object, then you validate their stupid little self narrative.

    Tell her it’s tiresome, boring, stupid, whatever. Use words that don’t convey shock of any kind or any sort of moral reaction. A yawn and an eye roll are what you’re trying to convey here. Knock it off because you’re being incredibly tiresome and annoying, we all know you can swear, you’re not that cool.

    Reply
    1. Jule

      Somehow I doubt making this issue into a referendum on Jill’s entire personality is going to make the workplace a more pleasant atmosphere for the LW.

      Reply
    2. JokeyJules

      I think you were on the right track in the first paragraph. But i do agree with Jule that using this approach wont be effective at all. If anything, might make it worse

      Reply
      1. Dr. Pepper

        Maybe don’t use those exact words; that was more about the frame of mind with which to approach it. Like it’s any other annoying interpersonal problem that needs to be sorted out. If they think they’re being cool, act like they’re being tedious.

        Reply
    3. Scarlet

      And issuing blanket statements on people’s personalities based on harmless habits is certainly no less “stupid” than excessive swearing.

      Reply
    4. Holly

      I disagree with this – jarring really gets the point across that it’s *out of the norm* for the office to curse that much. I’d be very confused if someone said to me “can you stop cursing? it’s boring.” It makes it sound like it’s a personal problem to me that I’m just… bored with the language… not that I’m saying it’s inappropriate. And saying cursing too much is “stupid” is just not going to go over well.

      Reply
      1. Scarlet

        Also, this kind of approach might work with a teenager who’s going through a “rebellious” phase, not with an adult coworker.

        Reply
    5. McWhadden

      Telling people at work they are being stupid is worse than swearing too much in an office that allows swearing.

      Reply
    6. ThankYouRoman

      Give Jill the chance to prove she’s one of those people first.

      Say it’s jarring and unsettling, see how she reacts. Not everyone is trying to up their badassery, sometimes someone just wasn’t taught any better. From the letter she’s not someone who is flexing on the office, she’s just still developing.

      Reply
  21. LKW

    I swear a ridiculous amount. It definitely increases with frustration. But I’ve also come up with a few that aren’t technically swears but get my point across. The most oft used is “Mother Trucker” which is just a little nana driving a semi down the highway and therefore can’t possibly be interpreted as offensive.

    I recently blurted that out in a meeting and someone gasped and I had to type that in the Skype chat to clarify that I was talking about a long-haul driving woman with children.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      I’m sorry, no you weren’t.

      You were using a euphemism for a really crude word. Everybody knew it.

      I get the desire to claim innocence on a technicality, but it really isn’t accurate.

      Reply
    2. Jennifer Thneed

      > can’t possibly be interpreted as offensive

      Do you really think that? People know exactly what word you “aren’t actually saying”. It’s almost exactly the phrase it sounds like, that people on your Skype chat thought you said. You could claim something about raising chickens and a “Mother Plucker” and it would be equally obviously the swear.

      Reply
    3. Holly

      I think if you’re in an office where even saying a sanitized version of a swear word results in gasps means you have to cut it off. People know what you’re saying.

      Reply
      1. LKW

        Nah, they’re French. They know their curses, they don’t know the sanitized versions. I assure you, it was more humorous than scandalous. Had it been scandalous, knowing this client, I would have heard about it very very quickly.

        Reply
    4. LKW

      Oh my lord, do I have to spell out /s? Of course everyone knows I’m cursing. I frequently use all sorts of words during discussions including those that if used more than once require an R rating.

      No one in their right mind believes I am talking about a woman driving a truck.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer Thneed

        Yes, actually I did need it spelled out. You said that someone gasped and you had to explain. It surely did sound like someone got offended to me.

        Reply
  22. SoGladImNotAlone

    I have a coworker that I sit next to who almost constantly mutters “shit” and “fuck” under her breath as she is working. I absolutely *hate* it. After reading the comments, I know why now: Because it is so negative and whiny. I will probably just continue to wear headphones instead of saying something to her, though.

    Reply
    1. Rebecca

      Here too. I’m saddled with an office mate that does nothing but swear, complain, whine, etc. all day every day. It’s exhausting. I have tried to tell her, hey, I’m on a conference call so please beware of what you say, and she’s actually told me she doesn’t care, and that if people don’t know that’s how she is by now, tough shit. My manager is of no help. I wish she’d just quit and go someplace else. It’s not that bad.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer Thneed

        Own it. Honestly, faceless people on the conference call don’t matter as much as you, her colleague.

        You’re right there in front of her and you find it exhausting. Tell her *that*. “Listening to you complain all day is exhausting. Could we establish a silent hour or something like that?”

        Reply
  23. Fuddy Dudd

    While it seems that Jill’s level of cursing goes above and beyond the accepted culture of this office, I can’t help but think it might be helpful if others could lead a bit more by example. As of right now, I’m not sure how well it would land with her if OP basically said “the level of cursing we’re all doing is ok, but yours is just too much!”. I have to wonder if it won’t run the risk of coming across as a “do as I say, not as I do” type sentiment.
    FWIW, I agree that it sounds like she’s taking it too far. But I think think OP should consider that addressing it might come across as hypocritical to Jill, especially if this is her first role out of college, whether or not it’s a fair assessment on Jill’s part.

    Reply
    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

      Honestly, I don’t think it matters. As adults we are expected to be able to regulate ourselves. Jill should be told by someone that she is outside of the norms and then it’s up to her to either figure it out on her own or ask more questions to understand the ‘acceptable’ level.

      Reply
    2. Holly

      What I took from the letter was that everyone curses on occassion, but it is actually “jarring” as Allison recommends saying, how much Jill swears in particular. I don’t think it’s hypocritical to say she’s cursing too much, because that seems to be exactly the issue, and no one else has that problem.

      Reply
  24. ThankYouRoman

    This is where some people just don’t get it. Swearing all the time, excessively makes you appear unapproachable and angry. Even in the lumber yard they didn’t constantly fire off obscenities and they were a bunch of rough necks.

    She won’t know until she’s told. She’s fresh out of school, it’s the perfect time she learns she’s in a much more diverse and tamed down setup.

    It sucks having to watch your language like a hawk, mutterings and expletives happen but yeah, reel that line in and still think about your personal optics.

    Reply
    1. Stephanie

      Yeah, I worked in trucking, which is a swearing friendly industry and even the people who said fuck every other word came across as a bit hostile and unapproachable.

      Reply
      1. ThankYouRoman

        Truckers and I go way back, I’ve used long haul and LTL for decades. Most are grizzled from fighting traffic 50hrs a week but I’m not in a car, don’t frigging start with me!!!

        Reply
    2. SheLooksFamiliar

      Used to work with a guy who swore…well, almost in every sentence. Everything was ‘F***ing candidate is coming in this morning,’ or ‘Well, s***, I don’t have a f***ing answer,’ or ‘Where the h*** are we going for lunch today?’ This 40-something year old explained he was a prison guard to earn his way through college. He had to swear to get prisoners’ attention and the habit stuck.

      Our boss told him a couple of times to knock it off, and got the same explanation about working in a prison. Finally, Boss exploded: ‘Are you in a prison NOW?’ You’re in an office, and we don’t use f*** as an adverb! Knock it off or I’m writing you up!’

      I still laugh when I think about that. Time and place…time and place.

      Reply
  25. Beanie

    Please, please, please just tell her. She picked up on some cues and may not realize she is doing it. At my first job out of school, I did well and got promoted really quickly. Moving past people who were there longer. I was the odd person out when I got hired and now was even more on the outs when I was promoted. We were all around the same age and I leaned on “being funny” and cursing and being sort of loose with crude-ish jokes to try and build rapport with them. No one said anything to me: in the moment or pulling me aside. Sometimes they all laughed along and joined in. I had no reason to believe it bothered anyone. If someone just would have said something, I would have stopped. Instead, someone we hired for a year long position decided to speak up in her exit interview and I got called to HR. Which was demoralizing and embarrassing. They had to take her complaint seriously as a “potential hostile work environment” but really, if someone would have just spoken up and told me to knock it off, it would not have been a problem. Completely valid that this person was uncomfortable, but I wish she would have spoken to me directly. Didn’t have to be a whole big thing: just in the moment “hey, I don’t like hearing all that, cut it out.” Save time – be direct and speak up.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer Thneed

      Oh god, I had something similar happen, where I thought I was making friendly conversation and the other person very much did not (and I was at her desk so she couldn’t walk away). I got hauled into HR and told I had done wrong. What was worse, they told me I couldn’t mention it to her, not even to apologize. I was completely in shock, and I cried, of course, which made them uncomfortable, and I was self-aware enough in the moment to be glad they had to deal with my discomfort. Because — same thing — if the other person had said *anything* I would have apologized and been mortified. And I had to keep working with her and I wasn’t allowed to say a thing. It was pretty awful.

      Reply
  26. Lola

    My office’s assistant deputy commissioner who was 70 used to swear loudly all the time. But it was usually about PR…err, f***-ups.

    Reply
  27. Laurelma01

    If two people are up for a promotion and one cusses at their computer, they will take it as an inability to handle stress and will not promote them.

    I have a girlfriend that took a job with the FBI after we got out of the military. She was worse then some of the men we worked with. She got terminated over the foul language. She was given a written warning, and repeated the same mistake afterwards. The issue was her using foul language in conversation with her supervisor & senior personnel. It’s also an issue of image.

    Hard lesson. She’s doing great now. The last time I talked on the phone with her, the “F” word was not part of the conversation. I have issues with foul language at work, even in the military.

    Reply
  28. Amber Rose

    She needs to cheer up. Sounds less like a swearing problem and more like an overbearing negativity problem. The only F word is Fun! Or fudge.

    I have a song stuck in my head now.

    Reply
  29. Anon Accountant

    I’ve changed to “well this is just lovely” instead of “what a clusterfuck”. Or instead of saying someone is an a$$hole “our discussions can be quite the challenge at times”. Swearing is a hard habit to break and I was afraid of swearing in front of the wrong manager.

    Reply
  30. writerson

    Years ago, I had a coworker who swore like a sailor, all day, every day. It was really distracting. We all swore occasionally, as the situation merited, but he was over the top. Finally we implemented a swear jar – kind of as a joke, but it got the point across when he funded our Friday beers for a full month. He cut way back.

    Reply
    1. RJ the Newbie

      HA! I’m a classics fan. Loretta Young used to do that to her co-stars on sets back in the 40s. Robert Mitchum once filled up her swear box with cash, stating, “this should just about cover what I’m about to say to you!”.

      Reply
  31. SheLooksFamiliar

    I don’t blush when people swear, and I’ve been known to do it. But letting F-bombs fly at will is tiresome, especially at work. Be discreet and stingy with your cursing because, if nothing else, it carries more of a wallop when you do it.

    Also, I’m not a huge fan of Guy Fieri but I stole ‘Mother father!’ from him.

    Reply
  32. Jennifer Juniper

    You would be doing a Jill a favor by telling her to knock off the negativity. It is making her look unprofessional and probably unlikeable as well. As a young woman, she needs to be made aware of the impact her behavior is and will have on her career.

    Reply
  33. BF50

    oh man. I hope you decide to talk to her.

    Very early in my career I was blindsided in a performance review about my “attitude”. I hadn’t realize that my joking complaining was not coming across as a joke. I doubt she realizes how she is coming across.

    I wish my boss had told me earlier instead of waiting until my annual performance review. I’d received nothing but praise and had been publically commended so having something I thought was light hearted completely torpedo my review was a shock. I should have known better, but also, I don’t think there should be big shocks in performance reviews.

    Reply
    1. Calpurrnia

      I literally had this same thing happen to me two weeks ago (except it was a regular one-on-one meeting instead of an annual review, but otherwise entirely accurate even down to the “I’d received nothing but praise and been publicly commended”). I’m still kind of reeling from it. Can you share some more about how you changed your behavior? I’m having trouble recognizing what is going to be perceived as “negativity” now and it’s got me afraid to participate in conversations sometimes. :(

      Reply
  34. Dance-y Reagan

    In certain fields, cursing is currency, particularly if women are a minority. My current grandboss lectured the team to “be on their best behavior” when I started. A few days in, I noticed the invisible eggshells, sprinkled around a few f-bombs, and everyone calmed down.

    That said, you shouldn’t carry on like Pesci in Casino.

    Reply
  35. Notthemomma

    I was just saying this morning I have to cut down on my #%*{^##^ swearing.

    ‘Oh Super sugar beets!’ Was the best non-sweat sweat I’ve heard in a while

    Reply
  36. Oxford Comma

    I’m surprised no one has referenced that iconic scene from The Wire.

    I swear way too much in general and I’ve been known to let off some eff bombs, although so far only with close work associates, but it’s something I’m trying to curb. Like most habits, it’s very hard to break, but at least I know swearing at work is inappropriate.

    OP: I don’t think you have anything to lose by trying Alison’s script. I’m wondering if this is one of those things where Jill thinks that because no one has said anything, that it’s okay.

    Reply
  37. Not My Money

    I used to be a loud and frequent complainer (swearing and all) then I worked in an office with a woman who was even louder and more frequent. I spent about 6 hours over 2 days near enough to her office to realize how actively unpleasant it is to be subjected to it and decided to train myself out of it. I haven’t been busy enough at my new job to see if I have it under control but I constantly think about how those 6 hours felt. I’m mortified to think I made anyone feel that way.

    Reply
  38. SongbirdT

    When I start a new job, I always get a little more comfortable when I hear the first f-bomb from a colleague.

    But there is an art to profanity that people have to learn. My son is 12 and I’ve told him he’s allowed to say swear words when he’s 13, but only with friends and never in front of adults, in order to hopefully teach him the fine art of knowing your audience when you curse.

    Reply
    1. chickaletta

      ^^This. Know your audience. It takes kids a while to get it. I used to teach Sunday school to pre-teens and they’d regularly say “sucks” to describe everything. While it’s not a terrible word and I’ve definitely been known to say worse (around adults), I felt that using B-grade curse words in front of your Sunday school teacher wasn’t cool and I let them know there are a time and place for everything. ‘Cause it takes a village, right?

      Anywho, sounds like the intern in the story is kinda like the pre-teens in my Sunday school class in that she hasn’t figured out yet how to adjust her vocabulary to her audience.

      Reply
  39. Surrogate Tongue Pop

    I enjoy the occasional Deadpool style of swearing. What in the ass? And of course, f**k knuckles.

    1st job… maybe lack of cultivated self awareness of frequency, so I like Alison’s wording here.

    Reply
  40. Virginiaisforswearers

    “I say that as someone who likes to swear”
    I’ve listened to several of your podcasts Allison, and I can’t even imagine you swearing! :)

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      How Stuff Works’ policy is that they’ll either beep it out or mark the episode as “explicit,” and I worry an “explicit” tag will deter people from listening at work because they’ll assume it’s something more than “shit” and instead more like sexualized content. So I’ve avoided it, against my preferences!

      Reply
  41. GreenDoor

    I think the fact that this coworker is an intern is really important. If this is her first job, she may think that being fully “expressive” is normal. It would be a kindness to pull her aside and explain that “while we cuss a lot here, you need to keep in mind that in most workplaces, swearing, even mildly is really frowned on. And in any workplace, constantly yelling and complaining – especially about things that are a normal part of your job – is not going to be OK. On that note, I’ve seen you do X and Y and Z. Even in our office, here’s why that’s not cool…” I mean, OP’s office might totally be her idea of “normal” and “acceptable” and it would be kind of you to set her straight.

    Reply
  42. Essess

    Swearing in the office is inappropriate and unprofessional. It shows a lack of respect for your coworkers and customers/clients to force them to listen to it even if it isn’t directed at them. Everyone in the OPs office should agree to monitor how often they swear in the office and make a point of stating that they are trying to clean up the office environment so that it is not just the new person making the effort to clean up their language.

    Reply
  43. Penny

    I’m a little older than my coworkers and even when I was interviewing the last several years, was taken aback at how often and common cursing is in professional settings. Once you’re on board and you get to know the group and routine, ok, but even in interviews – first time meeting people – effs and esses abound. I’m no prude, but something tells me standards are slipping in work environments and it’s totally normal to a lot of people. My boss is funny and cool and she drops eff bombs in meetings and casually but I can’t bring myself to do it. Yet.

    Reply
    1. Autumnheart

      At our last all-department meeting, we had a couple executives (clearly used to swearing in their daily lives) spell out S-H-I-T once each. Our office is pretty moderate with swearing; it doesn’t cross anyone’s eyes, but nobody uses the F word as an adverb either. A lot of people will use the letter instead and say “Eff that” instead of the actual curse word.

      In my ongoing campaign to moderate my own speech, I seem to have replaced most of my cursing with epithets from cartoons, because I say “Zoinks!” and “Good grief!” and “Rats!” a lot. It took me a while, but now saying “Holy cow!” and “Aw, darnit” and “Oh for heaven’s sake” comes a lot more naturally than it used to.

      Reply
  44. Drop Bear

    Here’s a thought – how about you all cut out the swearing? You are going to chat to Jill and tell her she swears ‘too much’? So, how much is just right – do you count how many times Fergus swears in a day, in an hour, in a week? Or Jane- because it’s different for women or young women? You say most of you swear in this wacky workplace with a fun vibe – has it occurred to you that there are many people who would find ANY swearing in the workplace too much and you are creating an undesirable (not to mention unprofessional) environment for them?
    The negative comments about/at her emails are a different matter – it wouldn’t matter whether she effed at them or fiddle dee dee’d at them, her attitude needs to be addressed (preferably by her manager of course, but we seem to have another manager who won’t manage, so the LW would be doing Jill a favour if she pointed it out).

    Reply
  45. Autumnheart

    One thing we did last year was set up a swear jar and donate the proceeds to a charity. That was pretty fun. Nobody’s language was policed very heavily, but we had a humorous way to make jokes like, “I’ll just put in a $20 for the week” or “Jill’s gonna cure cancer in a week at this rate!” And then at the end of it, a local charity got a few bucks. It was a good way to address the issue without singling any one person out or causing hard feelings.

    Reply
  46. Selective Smack Talker

    OP here: Thanks for all the thoughtful comments! To clear up a couple things: This is not about me being sexist. If she were male, the incessant “Are you fucking kidding me?” (exasperated, to the computer screen), “That’s fucking right!” (while laughing in agreement with something a coworker said), “What the FUCK?” (to the computer again) would still shred my nerves. Honestly, she says some permutation of “fuck” in about half the sentences she utters. Unfortunately, her predecessor in the role overlapped with her by a week, and that person was a terror—furiously miserable in her job, and *yelling* about it A LOT. Breaking things. Slamming the phone down at the end of every call. And using (very loudly) every name in the book to complain about other people. That was tolerated for a couple years before I started working there in February. Some of us were talking about how we need to watch what we say because clients pop into the office unannounced at times, and she said something like, “Makes sense. I get that.” And turned back to her computer and loudly said “fuck” in the next three sentences out of her mouth. I think there’s a lack of self-awareness and an inability to pick up on social cues at play as well.

    And I don’t want to sound like I hate her. She’s a nice person, otherwise is pleasant to be around, and jumped right into a difficult, confusing job and kicked ass. So I’m Team Jill, just not Team Fucking Jill.

    Reply
    1. Scarlet

      “So I’m Team Jill, just not Team Fucking Jill.”

      ;-)
      I think she probably swears and complains a lot because she’s stressing out, since you said her job is difficult and confusing. I tend to identify with her because I also swear at my computer a lot when I’m frustrated and it’s the best way I found to blow off steam, short of throwing said computer out the window. I think the general issue is the negativity and the fact that she’s expressing her frustration so loudly, so if I were you, I’d probably focus on “not spreading negativity around”, rather than the swearing because, like other commenters said, it’s difficult to define precisely how much swearing is too much.

      Reply
  47. betty (the other betty)

    As my now-college-age kid has been growing up, we’ve talked about swearing. Mainly, I said he should save it for when it is really needed. Plus, it’s really hard to get out of the habit of saying “fuck” in every sentence, and there are plenty of ways to say things that don’t involve using swear words. He does swear when talking to his friends, but not every other word like some people do.

    Sure, I swear too (even in front of my kid), but not in every conversation. And (almost) never in a work-related conversation.

    Reply

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