When is it appropriate to curse around the office?
When I started tossing around this topic in my head, I anticipated that my point of view would necessarily have to conclude that cursing in the workplace is a bad idea. But a brainstorm with my lawyer husband made me change my point of view a bit. The answer isn't an unequivocal "no," but it's not always a "yes" either.
So when might swearing like a sailor be OK (if you're not actually a sailor)? It's entirely based on the culture of your individual office. A great example comes from my husband, a former attorney. As a young lawyer, he aimed to keep his language PG-rated since he thought that was appropriate in a professional workplace. Not so! As a group, lawyers love to curse, and if you can't generate a cuss on cue, you might lose some respect from your peers. It can also be an entertaining way to blow off steam in a stressful environment, provided you don't take things too far. It took a nudge from my husband's secretary to convince him that cursing was absolutely workplace appropriate in his law office. Other swear-worthy professions might include coaching, law enforcement and construction. It's probably inadvisable to pursue any of these if you're reluctant to colorfully insult people's intelligence, appearance (and mothers) at will!
If you're employed in a more conservative profession, and the office culture includes cursing -- feel free to join in. Peppering your conversation with a few choice words can make your co-workers, and even your superiors, feel that you're one of the gang. It also might be appropriate to work a little blue with clients or customers if they tend to be cursers themselves. It's all about building relationships that can lead to business and promotions in the future. You don't want to come across like Mister Rogers if everyone else is talking like a character in Pulp Fiction.
So when should cursing NOT be part of your repertoire? Obviously, if you happen to work in a church, an elementary school or a daycare swearing is a definite no-no. Some professions might also explicitly prohibit swearing. I understand that customer service representatives might often be tempted to curse out a difficult customer, but I doubt that their bosses would be happy about it! For everyone else, it's always best to err on the side of caution if you're unsure how someone might react to foul language. When in doubt, go with "dagnabbit" or the like!
Finally if you've let out a few curses in the office and someone asks you to stop -- do it! Making people uncomfortable is never a wonderful ides. Although being in a position of authority gives you some latitude in deeming language to be acceptable, it doesn't give you permission to harass your employees or create a potentially hostile work environment.
To sum up, cursing may be OK in the office, but it's on a case-by-case basis. Take your cues from your co-workers, and you'll be able to determine whether swearing is appropriate in your workplace. And when in doubt, err on the side of discretion until you have a better feel for the situation.
Jennifer Cohen is the President and Chief Word-Nerd at Word-Nerd.com, a site devoted to SAT and PSAT vocabulary prep.