What Your Swear Words Say About You

swear words

If you like to use swear words, are you communicating the messages you intend?

Perhaps you’re not thinking of sending a particular message when you let loose. Maybe you’re just angry and blowing off steam. It happens. Or maybe you think swearing isn’t the taboo it was because it seems everybody does it now – even at the highest professional levels. You wouldn’t be wrong about that.

Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders all seasoned their 2016 campaigns with salty language. And it’s reported the new DNC head, Tom Perez, hardly makes any speech without inserting profanity. So something has changed. Politicians used to make every effort to convey dignity and eloquence in their language.

We’re also seeing more profanity in professional marketing. Businesses hype their product or service as “kick-a_ _,” “bad-a_ _,” or some such crude and overblown term used for shock value. Even calling women vulgar sexual slurs is not off limits. Why do they do that?

Why We’re Hearing More Swear Words

There’s speculation politicians (more likely, their staff) have read the study* that correlates swearing with perceived honesty. Consequently, since it’s crucial for politicians to be perceived as honest, they’ve begun removing any filters they had. Marketers read studies, too, and apply what they learn to sell us their product.

And now, because they swear at us, we’re supposed to believe they’re authentic, sincere, and honest.

“I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”

I do not think it means what you think it means. - Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride Click To Tweet

So I wonder if politicians and marketers will be the last ones to know what they’re actually communicating. It’s the same thing communicated when anyone habitually swears, regardless of professional stature:

  • It’s an artificial, emotional inflation of one’s argument or credibility which is, at its core, manipulative.
  • It assumes one’s audience is too dumb to recognize the previous point.
  • Swearing also demonstrates a lack of awareness that language makes a public moral statement about one’s personal standards.
  • Finally, It assumes one’s audience has the same morals and standards – which is disrespectful at best and insulting at worst.

If the people who swear at us understood they’re really communicating a revelation of their own vulgar scruples, they’d be a little less transparent with it. They’d put their filters back in place. We call that self-control.

Talk, whether ugly or beautiful, is an index of character. – Stephen King

Keep It Classy

However, I’ve lived long enough to learn calling people out on bad behavior is usually an exercise in futility. Our nature, when confronted, is to dig in for a fight and defend bad behavior like profanity as our right. We’re stupid like that. But just because we can do something isn’t an argument we should do it.

But I also know, every once in awhile, I’ll come across a thoughtful woman who listens with both ears and wears big-girl pants. She values constructive input and applies it to her benefit. That’s every classy woman you’ll ever meet. If you have to emulate someone, emulate her.

Just because our culture is flowing toward the drain hole of a language sewer doesn’t mean it’s futile to swim against the tide. The darker the environment, the brighter the star shines. Be a classy Kate, Dutchess of Cambridge in a world of boorish Amy Schumers. And for heaven’s sake, don’t disrespect and insult those you want to hear you.

What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. – Jesus

*Social Psychological and Personality Science Journal

swear words