potty mouth

Potty Mouth

One person’s potty mouth is another person’s normal language – whether you are on stage, in a meeting or on the telephone there is always a question as to whether or not you should swear, cuss or use slang. What might happen as a result of it can be both positive or negative. No one wants a reputation as a potty mouth, or do they?

What is swearing, what is appropriate, how should that work? There are so many questions to this. A book could be written with ideas and thoughts but as this is a short article, I will keep it brief. I have a simple rule of thumb that I work with and that is “appropriate for the environment you’re in”. I know it sounds boring, dull and straight. However, you don’t know who is in the room, have no understanding of their conditioning, their personal script, their beliefs, their religion. What you might think of as a low-level cuss might actually turn out to be really quite blasphemous or seriously rude for that other person in the room. We can’t get it right all of the time but we should certainly be mindful of the situation.  

A classic example of this was when I was running a speaking competition a few years ago and one of the entrants in the competition used a cuss. He took the Lord’s name in vain when describing something that happened. However, in the audience, unbeknownst to him, was the head of a national speaking association, who was a devout, very strict and religious focused person who got up and walked out. He was hugely offended because in his head, it just wasn’t appropriate or acceptable and as a result he would never book that speaker in his country because of his profanity. Now you might say that’s a bit over the top, a bit excessive or a bit strong, but for this particular gentleman that was the way he worked.

Now consider another side to this debate where we have different generations communicating and there are certain words that to some are swear words and to others are just light cusses or not even a swear word in their eyes. I take for example, the difference between American and British swear words. Where there is an example used in box sets streamed across the world. I’ve even heard it being used on BBC radio, where a particular actress turned around and said that she was really “pissed” about something. In America, that’s just a word for annoyed. (For your information when typing this the word ‘pissed’ didn’t even come up as red underlined for being misspelled, just an observation.) In Britain, it means a lot more than that. It still means being annoyed but it’s also a bit stronger and is a low calibre swear word. Instead of being a minor cuss it became a swear word and people complained. The BBC very quickly apologised live on the show for the profanity that had been used, etc, etc. and the actress concerned was mortified that she had potentially offended people because it was certainly not her way.

We have to understand these areas better to protect our reputations. If you consider comedians that stand up and use the F bomb, the C bomb, the W bomb and many others, they just use them all over the place and get away with it. But that’s the environment.  Whether or not you enjoy a sweary comedian is your choice. My mother used to love Billy Connolly a fellow Glaswegian, but she “didnee like the way he swore all the time”.

The question is understanding what is appropriate in each environment. Some of the time I will use small cuss words if I’m in a coaching, consulting or in a small workshop environment, because it adds a little bit more impact to what you’re saying. It’s an adjective, used to give more potency to what is being said, without the excessive profanity edge to it. It’s just the potency and impact that I’m after.

We should all consider where we swear, where we certainly wouldn’t swear and how often. How many times have you been caught out for actually using “foul” language where in hindsight you probably shouldn’t have because it’s come back and bitten you on the bum at a later date?

These are all challenges that we have to go through when we’re out and about, speaking, networking, in front of an audience or in front of a boardroom. You could be sitting there meeting the in-laws for the first time or your future son-in-law’s parents or whatever it happens to be. Just be aware. Profanity, foul language, small cusses all have their places and choosing the appropriate situations is hopefully not a tricky scenario for you. Good luck with your speaking and as always, if I can help, let me know.

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