Is Your “Mouth Like a Sailor” Hurting or Helping Your Career?

Posted January 17, 2013 by Marcy Twete in Building Your Brand

A recent article on has been making its way around the internet, and has been discussed in many a women’s LinkedIn group as of late. The topic? Swearing…by women…in the workplace.

Each side of the argument is equally compelling. One side says that women have lost all femininity and that we shouldn’t curse. Instead, we should embrace being more “female” and traditional and polite. Another side claims that swearing is a part of a power vocabulary, and that women shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed of swearing.

I can’t help but wonder, though, in a world where four letter words have overtaken our late-night television, movies, music, and our own vocabularies, is this really a debate anymore? Isn’t swearing a part of our culture in a way we’ll never be able to eliminate? The question here, for me, isn’t whether or not you should or shouldn’t swear, but whether or not swearing affects your life in business. Ask yourself this, is your “mouth like a sailor” helping you or hurting you?

Here’s my two cents on when swearing is and isn’t appropriate:

Go ahead and curse when…

  • A single word will add gusto or humor to what you’re doing. In the Forbes article linked above, the author uses the example of a women’s magazine using the title “Make Shit Happen” instead of “Make Stuff Happen.” It’s much more powerful, isn’t it? Using a single curse word in a strategic place is one of those “go ahead” moments.

  • You’re building camaraderie. Especially when it comes to working in a supervisory capacity, saying, “I’m sorry this happened and the company will do the best it can to bounce back” is not as powerful as a boss or leader saying, “I get it. It fucking sucks. But we’re going to bounce back.” Honesty, and sometimes honesty with cursing, means building relationships in the negative portions of a business.
  • You’re in an intimate conversation. If you’re one-on-one in a restaurant with a professional colleague who you’d also consider a good friend, it’s perfectly fine to say what you mean and mean what you say. As conversations, even professional ones, become more one-on-one intimate, you have more freedom to swear at your leisure.

Find another word when…

  • You’re working with someone for the first time. Walking into a new meeting armed with your potty mouth could mean slaying any chance of a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship. Don’t drop the f-bomb until you really know someone well enough to know if they might be offended.
  • Avoid cursing in group meetings. Sitting around a conference table is the time to use your best ideas in your best vocabulary, not to berate your coworkers or superiors with cursing.
  • Never curse at a superior, especially someone C-level. Period. Got it? Just don’t. Even if that person has a mouth like a sailor, you need to remain at your best, on your game, and swearing probably isn’t a part of it.
  • Don’t do it just to be “one of the boys.” Men tend to curse more often in the workplace, it’s just a fact. And while that tendency sometimes makes you feel more free to curse yourself, don’t do it just to be a part of the group. It might just make you look like you’re trying far too hard.

What do you think, Career Girls? Do you swear? In the office? Outside of it? What’s your take?

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."