Profanity in the workplace

  • #1
FlexGunship
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So, I got a very passive aggressive note from a fellow employee, not directed towards me specifically since it was in an e-mail to everyone in the group, saying: "I think less use of profanity in the office would be appropriate."

We all swear in different degrees (except for this guy)... even our mutual manager gets fairly profane. This is the first time he's expressed displeasure. I am very much opposed to restriction of speech at work.

I was thinking of replying with "If you think you have a workable set of rules..."

Any thoughts forum?

EDIT: Also considering making a joke about how "painful" it is to work here, and providing this as a reference: (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-do-we-swear).
 

Answers and Replies

  • #2
Jimmy Snyder
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He may be building a case for harassment.
 
  • #3
FlexGunship
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He may be building a case for harassment.

Could be. We all seem to get along pretty well. No one swears at him. My manager might say something like: "Wow, I can be a f*cking knucklehead sometimes." And I might say something like: "I hate these d*mned controllers, they need to display more status information."

He's the only one in the group that doesn't swear (that I know of). Can it really be considered harassment to just be "nearby" when you hear words you don't like?

I don't really like to word "liberal" any more.

EDIT: I just reviewed the company's harassment policy; it's pretty clear. "Profanity" is not a problem.

• Written or spoken derogatory terms about an individual’s race, sex, age, or other protected characteristics outline above
• Slurs, epithets, unwelcome jokes
• Any other unwelcome conduct/behavior or attitude directed at a person because of a particular protected characteristic (i.e. sex, race, age, etc.)
 
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  • #4
FlexGunship
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Update: I wrote a note to my boss asking: "do you know what this is about?"
 
  • #5
FlexGunship
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Second update: Apparently my boss thinks it was a jab at him.

C'mon forum... you guys are idea-machines! What should I do? If nothing else, I'm sure there must be a clever response!
 
  • #6
Pattonias
190
0
I would fall into the group that says that the f-word is not appropriate for the work place. Especially in an office environment. I would also say that frequent use after someone has complained could easily result in a lawsuit for creating a hostile work environment. I worked in an office with several engineers and we generally didn't use seriously profane language. The occasional sh** or da** or cr** would fly by, but it seemed okay even funny among working adults. We have a new guy who like to drop the f-bomb at oddly inappropriate times. I mean to say times that didn't really call for it. "Oh, I'm f***ing tired." It was always shocking and I always didn't really know how to respond.

In my experience in the army, the f-word is an common adjective/adverb/noun/etc. In the office it just doesn't fit unless that is the kind of face you are willing to show the customer. Using the f-word without restraint shows a lack of maturity and professionalism. Letting the occasional word slip shows you are human.

If you just lost a finger in the paper shredder, let the f-word fly.
If you are just talking to your employees, maybe you should restrain yourself.
 
  • #7
Proton Soup
214
1
just ask him. i suspect it is because he's very religious.
 
  • #8
FlexGunship
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I would fall into the group that says that the f-word is not appropriate for the work place. [...] Letting the occasional word slip shows you are human.

If you just lost a finger in the paper shredder, let the f-word fly.
If you are just talking to your employees, maybe you should restrain yourself.

Meh, I guess I wasn't raised to be annoyed by the language someone chooses to use. I don't think anyone has a problem with professionalism when it comes to our customers.
 
  • #9
FlexGunship
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just ask him. i suspect it is because he's very religious.

Yeah, he is. I wonder if I'm allowed to be offended by his religiousness. Who do I go to for permission to be offended by something?
 
  • #10
Pattonias
190
0
If his religion required him to spit on your shoes you might get somewhere. If his religion causes him to be offended by what is considered one of the most offensive words in the English language. I don't think you will get very far.

Also, try dropping the f word at a job interview or two. See where that gets you at Boeing.
 
  • #11
FlexGunship
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If his religion required him to spit on your shoes you might get somewhere. If his religion causes him to be offended by what is considered one of the most offensive words in the English language. I don't think you will get very far.

Also, try dropping the f word at a job interview or two. See where that gets you at Boeing.

It just seems to juvenile, doesn't it? I wouldn't use the f-word in an interview for EXACTLY the same reason that I wouldn't use the word "whatever." Not because it's offensive, but because there are more articulate ways to express yourself when trying to make a good impression.

Frankly, I think people that find swear words offensive are either small-minded, self-righteous, or just looking for a reason to be offended by something.

The f-word, for example... it rhymes with "duck" and has an identical start and finish to the word "firetruck." We know that it isn't the actual sound or construction of the word that offends.

And no one uses the word for it's literal meaning when they're using it as an expletive. And even if it were, it's absurd to be offended by the single most cross-cultural, cross-species, cross-gender concept in existence in nature. The idea of bi-gender sexual intercourse is the single most prevalent idea in the entire animal and plant kingdom. It's like being offended if someone used "AEROBIC ASPIRATION" as an expletive.

I think being offended by the idea of sex is juvenile in the highest degree. Up there with people who giggle when they hear the phrase "chicken breast."

Is it okay if I'm offended by his juvenility?

EDIT: From now on, I'll being using the following expletive: "God bless it!"

Examples:
  • <injury> "Oh, god bless it!"
  • "This god blessed motor is wired wrong."
  • "Stop blessing around and come fix this god blessed piece of religious idolatry!"
  • "Yeah, he's an idiot. God bless him."
 
  • #12
Pattonias
190
0
On the same token, it is juvenile to deny the history of a word. I was raised not to cuss at all because it was rude and as you said there is always a better way to express yourself. I picked up cussing in the Army because in that environment it was acceptable. (Even though technically is against the rules.)

At what point is it a sign of maturity to use profanity?

In this situation it really comes down to the workplace environment. What will end up happening is your company will decide whether this guys quality of work is good enough that they would rather keep him than lose him over your insisting on using the word.
It won't be fair and it won't have anything to do with your right to free speech as profanity is already regularly restricted.

Perhaps you would like it better if the guy made a big scene in the actively aggressive style instead of being passive. Perhaps that would make difference. Also remember that all this guy would have to do If it really bothered him enough is go up the chain until he finds a like-minded supervisor who feels that same way he does.

Do you really need to say the f-word that often when you know it bothers someone?

Even though you are on a web-forum (I'm assuming at work) that doesn't permit the use of profanity, or even really bad grammar.
 
  • #13
JaredJames
2,817
22
Well given that the f-word has nothing to do with what it's used for, it's use when swearing is misplaced and incorrect (certain examples aside like "f yourself").

I'd say the incorrect use is juvenile.

I don't have a problem with swearing, but there are some places that a professional attitude needs to be used - I see the workplace as one of those. I only accept it elsewhere because it is "the norm". Personally I don't see a need for it and it certainly isn't mature.
 
  • #14
Jimmy Snyder
1,095
20
EDIT: I just reviewed the company's harassment policy; it's pretty clear. "Profanity" is not a problem.
The policy may not help once he has asked for the foul language to stop. If it continues in spite of his written request for it to stop it may constitute harassment regardless of the policy.
 
  • #15
JaredJames
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Surely if it's a private company, the policy doesn't mean anything really. It's the boss' call regarding what is and isn't acceptable.

If he says no swearing, then that's the end of it.
 
  • #16
FlexGunship
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On the same token, it is juvenile to deny the history of a word. I was raised not to cuss at all because it was rude and as you said there is always a better way to express yourself.

I think that's the fundamental difference. You were raised not to swear. I was raised to be articulate. Swearing was allowed in my house so long as it was appropriate. I wasn't to swear around company unless company swore first. I was told to excuse myself if I accidentally swore (something I still do when in mixed company). But I wasn't taught to fear certain combinations of sounds, and I was certainly never taught to fear certain ideas.

At what point is it a sign of maturity to use profanity?

Meh, loaded question. At what point is it a sign of maturity to say "chicken breast"? It's not an issue of maturity to use the actual word, it's an issue of maturity to be able to behave like an adult.

Perhaps you would like it better if the guy made a big scene in the actively aggressive style instead of being passive. Perhaps that would make difference.

Actually, I hadn't thought off that, but you might be right. At least then we could argue about it and freely exchange ideas.

Also remember that all this guy would have to do If it really bothered him enough is go up the chain until he finds a like-minded supervisor who feels that same way he does.

Or dump McDonald's coffee on his lap.

Do you really need to say the f-word that often when you know it bothers someone?

No. But maybe I'd at least propose a trade. I could pick a word he uses to express himself and tell him not to use it. That's what it is, fundamentally, right? The desire to control the actions and behaviors of those around you?
 
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  • #17
FlexGunship
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Surely if it's a private company, the policy doesn't mean anything really. It's the boss' call regarding what is and isn't acceptable.

If he says no swearing, then that's the end of it.

I think the comment was directed at our boss. I know my boss' boss (the director) is also a curse-factory.
 
  • #18
JaredJames
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I don't think swearing comes under being articulate with speech.
 
  • #19
rootX
465
4
Boss/boss-boss/boss-boss-boss .. don't have much say in this. It's the HR or similar departments (even external legal parties) that determine what should be the course of action IMO.
 
  • #20
JaredJames
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Boss/boss-boss/boss-boss-boss .. don't have much say in this. It's the HR or similar departments (even external legal parties) that determine what should be the course of action IMO.

Only if HR exists.
 
  • #21
FlexGunship
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I don't think swearing comes under being articulate with speech.

I disagree with your assertion. The words and their meanings are part of common use in society. Being articulate simply means expressing what you intend to. If I want to call a piece of broken technology a "piece of unreliable sh*t" then I'm being very articulate in that situation. Even more so if I'm talking to one of our vendors and I say: "This terminal module is a piece of unreliable sh*t."

This is how human being communicate. Truncation of the language does not necessarily imply improvement. Remember 1984?
 
  • #22
rootX
465
4
Only if HR exists.

These things can turn out to be quite serious whether HR exists or not.
 
  • #23
JaredJames
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Well flex, you are the first person I've ever had saying that swearing makes you articulate. In fact, everything I've read so far has said to avoid swearing as it degrades your speech and can take away from arguments.
 
  • #24
FlexGunship
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Well flex, you are the first person I've ever had saying that swearing makes you articulate. In fact, everything I've read so far has said to avoid swearing as it degrades your speech and can take away from arguments.

What if you mean to swear? What if that is the intention? What if your goal is to pack as much exasperation and frustration as possible into a single word?

Speech doesn't only consist of seminars prepared and delivered in front of an audience. Speech isn't something that is only done in important situations. Speech isn't as one-dimensional as you imply.

If I stub my toe so hard that I break it, and yell "Fiddlesticks!" The person next to my is likely NOT to comprehend the gravity of that recent event. Conveying what you mean to say is articulation. I don't know of any alternative definitions (that don't involve music or music theory).

EDIT: The odd thing is that most people consider me an excellent speaker (both public and private). I rarely have a difficult time conveying my ideas.

If I'm in a meeting with 20 people, and I'm having difficulty conveying how poorly thought-out a plan is, and my superiors are saying: "well, let's get through the first few steps." And I say: "that's not a prudent way to proceed." And he says: "I think we have a good understanding of what will happen." And I say: "No you don't. Your plan is f*cked." I don't get yelled at. People don't walk out. They listen! I have chosen a very strong word to use and they recognize it.

DOUBLE EDIT: I am reminded of a time when I specifically used the phrase: "It's not f*cking magic. Someone has to design this." Guess what... I got their attention!
 
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  • #25
JaredJames
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I stub my toe and yell the f-word. In what way has me referring to sex given the gravity of the situation? It hasn't. It's in how you deliver the word - the emotion of your speech and the fact I shouted it.

Of course swearing gets attention, it's got a shock factor to it. It doesn't mean it's appropriate.
 
  • #26
FlexGunship
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I stub my toe and yell the f-word. In what way has me referring to sex given the gravity of the situation? It hasn't. It's in how you deliver the word - the emotion of your speech and the fact I shouted it.

Of course swearing gets attention, it's got a shock factor to it. It doesn't mean it's appropriate.

I can't actually tell if this is how you feel, or if you're just playing devil's advocate. I didn't realize such draconian moral views of language were still so prevalent especially in light of all the other moral advances global societies have made.
 
  • #27
JaredJames
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I can't actually tell if this is how you feel, or if you're just playing devil's advocate. I didn't realize such draconian moral views of language were still so prevalent especially in light of all the other moral advances global societies have made.

This is how I feel (and a bit of the latter).

I'd like to see something that shows profanity as enhancing your speech though. That would be an interesting read.
 
  • #28
FlexGunship
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This is how I feel (and a bit of the latter).

I'd like to see something that shows profanity as enhancing your speech though. That would be an interesting read.

Do you have a complete list of words people shouldn't say?
 
  • #29
JaredJames
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Do you have a complete list of words people shouldn't say?

Anything that is generally accepted as profanity. There would certainly be cases where words are borderline. That is still irrelevant to my question.

Like I said, anything that shows profanity enhances speech.
 
  • #30
Dembadon
Gold Member
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[...] But I wasn't taught to fear certain combinations of sounds, and I was certainly never taught to fear certain ideas.

[...]

If the quote from his letter in your original post is actually what he wrote, then he doesn't appear to be afraid either. He doesn't even say that he's offended. The only thing we can infer from what he wrote is that he thinks it's inappropriate in a work environment.

That said, I've never been one to mind a little profanity here and there, but when used excessively, I find it very annoying and unnecessary even in casual environments.

The most you can do here is disagree with what he thinks is appropriate / inappropriate for the workplace. One can't assume that he's offended by profanity in general; for all we know he could curse like a sailor when he leaves work.
 
  • #31
nucleargirl
122
2
everyone I curently work with swears... I'm the only one who doesnt. There is just no need! especially when there are customers present - it just makes the place look really bad! come on, there are other ways to express yourself, there is no need to put in a expletive in every sentence. It does irritate me... it is offensive.
 
  • #32
nismaratwork
353
0
I must be missing something... we're all on Physics Forums, right? We can debate about how cursing effects one's IMAGE, but really... "substantive" arguments that some words have special power?

Ehn Whord.

Unless you're dense, that put another phrase (also allowed), which in turn makes you think of a word we can all agree, has a pretty awful history. The point though, is that you can prevent me from saying something, but the sentiment, the meaning, is communicated.

If Flex writes an email back, and its SHAKESPEAREAN in its quality and poetry... if he's really saying "go blank yourself"... then most people get the message. I've had people say, "they'll pray for me," and atheist or not I feel their care and love. I've had people say, "I'll pray for you!" at the end of an argument, and we ALL know what THAT means; in fact the tone is pretty similar. :rolleyes:

So, what's the answer? Discretion... presentation, balance between expression and the environment you're in. I think swearing is fine, but a lot of parents don't want their children repeating blood-curdling oaths in a variety of languages. So... if I stub my toe I'm used to saying, "Oh... damn! Oh heck... oh *gurgling* Son of a gun!" etc.

If I'm alone at home, the walls can only testify to the filth that comes out of me. In each sitaution, everyone who's stubbed their toe knows what I'm saying.
 
  • #33
nismaratwork
353
0
This is how I feel (and a bit of the latter).

I'd like to see something that shows profanity as enhancing your speech though. That would be an interesting read.

Dante's Inferno: "He made of his rump, a trumpet!"
For the time... racy!

EVERYTHING written by Shakespeare, but, "Get thee to a nunn'ry" leaps to mind. I'm pretty sure that if someone said the equivalent now?... yikes.

It's the very existence of the taboo that allows us to enhance speech and writing by flirting with, and sometimes acceding to it.
 
  • #34
FlexGunship
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  • #35
nismaratwork
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You can't say that fohking word in here!

OK... see... I might have this little... or not so little... infraction history around cursing, so I'm not trying to taunt the mentors. My point was just with a word that you hear every day on the radio, on TV (I mean, "The N-Word" the phrase), and in print... it's the ultimate dodge.

Everyone is saying it, but nobody takes responsibility for it.
 

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