November 13, 2015
Let’s face it, swearing is fun. There’s something gratifying and thrilling in breaking the rules of everyday communication. But of course, it comes with consequences. But they’re not always negative ones. For better or for worse, swearing is one of the most powerful communication tools.
When used in the right place and at the right time, it makes otherwise neutral statements more memorable, human, and approachable–all things leaders and public figures strive to be in their everyday communication. And that’s exactly why they provide some of the best examples of how to effectively use the occasional curse word.
Let’s take, for example, the most memorable soundbite from a recent Democratic presidential debate.
“The American people are sick and tired of hearing about your damn emails.”
–Senator Bernie Sanders
Without the “damn,” this statement would still make the point, but the “damn” makes it – pop! Expletives, even simple ones like this, make us tune in and pay attention. Especially in the context of politics, saying “damn” is refreshing and connotes authenticity because it conflicts with what people expect politicians to say. If you remove the “damn,” the statement is no longer newsworthy. It loses its edge.
Another example of a curse word making all the difference is President Obama’s on-air statement about the US women’s soccer team.
“‘Playing like a girl’ means being a badass.”
–President Barack Obama
Obama followed his statement by saying that maybe he shouldn’t have said that and instead offered “‘playing like a girl’ means being the best.” But we all know best doesn’t do the work of badass. Obama earned credit for making a bigger splash by using the word badass. No non-expletive word can replace the meaning and feeling the word badass creates. Similar to Bernie Sanders’ comment, by swearing, Obama is able to communicate much more beyond his words. His effective use of swearing makes him more human and approachable. It’s a pleasant surprise to his audience, who expects politicians to be measured and calculated, even in their everyday speech.
A judiciously placed swear word can be effective and powerful. Before you call bullshit, this doesn’t mean you should to go dropping the f-bomb with abandon. But it can’t hurt to show you’re human with an occasional soft swear word. You may even find yourself earning credit for being a badass.