And why I will never stop
When I started public speaking in 2005 I tried to speak the way I always speak. Honest. Clear. Real. And with a fairly decent sprinkling of swearing.
As my public speaking career slowly started taking off, the complaints started coming in. On feedback forms mostly. Nobody ever told me to my face to stop swearing (although many people did come up to me and compliment me for my honesty and no bullshit approach).
And then a few speaking bureaus refused to represent me because I swear. When I told my partner she asked me if the swearing was really necessary. And so there came a point when I had to sit down and give it some serious thought.
All I have to offer is me
I’m just being me. And at the end of the day, that’s all I’ve got to offer. And that’s my message too – be YOU. Wouldn’t I be diluting who I am and what I bring to the party? Or is my swearing just a pathetic juvenile habit that I’ve never grown out of?
The bottom line for me is this: is it worth alienating some people because of my swearing? And the answer to that question is an unequivocal, “Fuck yes!”. And here’s why.
When it comes to topics of self-worth, identity, motivation, passion and purpose, any change requires some degree of shock and discomfort – by definition. After all, life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Swear words demand attention and take people out of their comfort zone. A well-timed swear word can be like a proverbial slap in the face. And the slap won’t happen if I say something like, “Today is the day!”. It has to be, “Today is the fucking day!”.
Context and purpose is everything
People need the shock. They need the urgency. They need me to take them outside the boundary of what’s appropriate and what’s acceptable. Or else it just doesn’t work as well.
Sure, swearwords still carry negative connotations, and swearing can easily be interpreted as impoliteness, direct disparagement of another person, or a general display of aggression. Which is why I say context and purpose is everything when it comes to swearing: for linguistic effect, to convey emotion, or for laughs. And that’s what people need to recognise, instead of just being “offended” because that’s they were brought up to believe that swearing is rude and offensive, regardless.
Swearing displays a more intelligent use of language
Some people feel swearing is often seen as a sign that the speaker lacks vocabulary, cannot express themselves in a less offensive way, or even lacks intelligence. Studies have shown, however, that swearing may in fact display a more, rather than less, intelligent use of language. Psychologists interested in when and why people swear try to look past the stereotype that swearing is the language of the unintelligent and illiterate.
A study by psychologists from Marist College found links between how fluent a person is in the English language and how fluent they are in swearing. Swearing appears to be a feature of language that an articulate speaker can use in order to communicate with maximum effectiveness.
Stephen Fry (he who has an amazing vocabulary) totally agrees: The sort of twee person who thinks swearing is in any way a sign of a lack of education or a lack of verbal interest is just a fucking lunatic. He talks on the joys of swearing in this video:
Many motivational speakers and authors have now also recognised this, which has led to a plethora of self-help books with swear words on the cover. This trend started about ten years ago, and has paved the way for audiences and bureaus to less offended and more challenged when I swear nowadays.