Steve Crescendo posts an inquiry about the appropriateness of business cussing in a blog entry today. His case was that he wants to raise awareness and has a generally common cussword in a phrase to do it. He ends with, “I just don’t think that anyone will be offended by it.“Which is a painful and clear violation of Rule #1. As a consultant, I don’t give a steaming pile of horse exrement what you think. It matters what the audience thinks and how they’ll receive it. And my bet is that some could and will be offended by it, dismiss whatever it is you are trying to say, and thus reduce the effectiveness of whatever is trying to be communicated. In short, even if you don’t give a flushable waste byproduct that such a word was used, someone else might, and if you care about your message, then by the commutative law of transitive communication (I just made that up), you do, in fact, care. Don’t do it. It’ll cause a fecal-load of problems I don’t think you want.I’m amazed at how often I watch folks who are supposedly in power positions give the shock treatment with foul language. It doesn’t seem to fall along lines of gender, age, social status, or any trackable metric. It’s rarely used creatively or effectively, mostly thrown in as though the presenter thought they’d be considered cool if they used it. It reminds me of the fourth grade, when I spent two weeks actively trying to cultivate a knack for cussing before I realized that if my parents heard me, I’d be tasting Dove soap for the next decade (I once was chastised heavily in front of friends for usign the word ‘heck’). But it has nothing to do with the morality or appropriateness of a single word (that is heard all over the place, so the shock factor is certainly reduced). It has to do with the audience. There are creative ways to get and keep attention without risking losing the audience, and that is preferred over the risk of losing them in every situation.Even though I have cultivated the habit of a fairly clean tongue (although having children has shown me there is still room for improvement), it’s just plain hard to say what is appropriate all the time. The brain doesn’t work as fast as the mouth a lot of the time. I used the idiom “band of Indians” once in a class and realized with horror that the people I’d used it with were, in fact, Indian (not the native Americans, but very Indian nonetheless). I had no reason to use such a phrase, and fortunately, they thought it was hilarious, but I was mortified. If using questionable, potentially offensive language is a problem, then learning to slow down is the only option. Unless your message is just so common it doesn’t matter, which is another problem.
Concerning appropriate language (and likely most everything else), when in doubt, don’t.