Now Chris and Francine, curb your cussing!

Terry Howard

Is it just me or have observed upticks in cussing these days? Don’t know if we should blame stress related to COVID, a partisan political environment, perceptions of racism or what, but it seems that profanity is more pervasive in everyday communication, including in social media. To wit:

“That’s a stupid @#$%&* question!”

“Why did you cut me off the road you @%$&*?”

Hello, you’ve just met “Cussing Chris” or “Four-letter Francine,” expletive spewing people them both.

In the sports and political worlds, we know that cursing is common behind the scenes, but less so in front of the media. But the truth is that many of us have encountered cussers at home, at work, at sporting events, in business establishments, you name it. To my surprise, a lady in the airport the other week donned a T-shirt with the words “F-You” emblazoned on the front.

Cussers can make life miserable. They’re unpredictable and will launch an F-bomb in response to anything that ticks them off (think road rage here). Unfortunately, these days social media gives the cusser a cover for saying things they’d never say to someone face-to-face.

A short caveat before we go further.

The fact is that we’re all human, and humans are prone to having an occasional bad day. Socially clumsy as we are, people who accidentally slip and say something inappropriate are largely absent of malice. Their worst — and largely forgivable — crime is an occasional poorly timed choice of words. Look, yours truly is a “recovering cusser.” With others, particularly the chronic cussers, their off days seem to happen more frequently.

Who are these people? Let’s take a closer look.

“This person controls through intimidation,” writes Gary Namie in his, Bully proof yourself At Work. Emotionally out-of-control, volatile and explosive, this person is overbearing, self-centered and insensitive to others.”

“Often people who cuss want to sound tough or appear ‘cool,’ ‘hip’ and ‘with it,’ writes Lillian Glass, in The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Verbal Self-Defense. “They are desperate for acceptance.”

Of course, some people are “thick skinned” and aren’t terribly affected by profanity. Others are. If you’re in the latter category and find yourself on the receiving end of this, over time it can extract a toll on your mental and physical health.

“We realize that politicians as well as top executives swear like just about everyone,” said James O’Connor, in Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing. “Hardly anyone today gives a damn if you say ‘damn’ or ‘hell,’ but it hurts when you say, ‘God damn you’ or ‘Go to hell.”

Now on the other side of the debate there are instances when profanity has a place, said Yehuda Baruch, research director at the Southampton Business School in the U.K.

“There are times where use of profanity will be well-received by colleagues,” said Baruch, who with co-researcher Stuart Jenkins has studied swearing in the workplace. “For example, certain swear words can generate a sense of team culture and close connection.”

Younger managers and professionals were more tolerant about employees cursing, while executives swore less frequently, Baruch and Jenkins discovered. “In my studies, even medical doctors and lawyers use profanity when talking between themselves,” Baruch said. “It helps to release stress”.

Gender may be an issue. The researchers found that women use more profanity when it is an all-female environment but will be less inclined to do so in mixed-gender teams. (A shameful and sexist admission here: Okay, I’m more tolerant of cussing men then I am for cussing women.)

So, what do we do if you’re bothered by profanity?

The good news is that this problem can be addressed. The bad news is that it’s virtually impossible to stamp it out altogether. So it is important to develop a rapid response if there’s a foul mouthed cusser running amok in your world.

First, remember that “it takes two to tango.” So never respond to cussing in kind. Instead try silence. Just stare at him. This can be unnerving and will force him to own what was just said.

Second, here are some effective responses:

  • The “Excuse me, what did you say?” technique is amazingly effective. You put the cusser on the defensive making her/him own their behavior. 
  • Say “Now that that’s over with, do you feel better?” Then walk away.
  • Another approach is to let him or her know that you do not like cursing. “It sounds much better to me when you don’t use language like that.”

Some parting advice for my cussing-prone readers; try curbing or at least controlling your cussing. When you feel negative feelings building up inside that could explode into profanity… stop! Take a walk to your car. Climb in, take a deep breath and exhale slowly. Make sure your windows are up (regardless of the temperature outside), then cuss to your heart’s desire.

Go ahead, we’ll wait! © Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller, a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, The BlackMarket.com, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award.