Avoiding the Curse

It surprised us the other day when the Wall Street Journal – at one time the gold standard for good writing and editing – quoted someone who used an expletive and decided it was so important that we know what that specific expletive was that they should only remove one letter of it.

Yeah, we never would have figured that one out otherwise. But more importantly, it raises the question of “was that really necessary?” And the follow-up question of when, if ever, should you get down and dirty in your own communications?

First, the Wall Street Journal issue. What would have been wrong with a series of four X’s to denote that four-letter word? Not that it matters, but the article was quoting someone on Twitter, which has pretty much deteriorated into a cesspool at this point anyway. And for a lot of journalists, Twitter has become their main avenue of research into what the “average” person is thinking.

Pro tip: Twitter is so far removed from what average people think and say that using Twitter commentary as the primary driver of an article is the epitome of everything that people say is wrong with journalism today.

But we digress. What about you? When you tweet, post content, create blog posts, or otherwise communicate with customers and the public, do you get vulgar? Should you?

At the risk of being labeled a prude, we’re going to say no. Not just no, but never. The English language is rich with words. Hundreds of thousands of them, offering the ability to convey an amazing range of information, emotions, and opinions. How about using some of them, rather than turning to obscenities like a no-talent standup comedian in search of a cheap laugh.

Our first reaction to obscenities in inappropriate places is to write off the author as a weak thinker. Someone incapable of understanding and using words to persuade or inform or entice. Instead, they either want to shock (by the way, the shock value vanished about 30 years ago) or show how edgy they are. Or worse, they simply don’t know any better.

There are exceptions, occasionally. Rhett Butler to Scarlett O’Hara at the end of Gone With The Wind (“frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”) qualifies as one. But using one particular obscenity 525 times in the three-hour Wolf of Wall Street (average about three per minute) wouldn’t qualify.

So our take is that there really is no good reason not to keep it clean in your external communications … doggone it!