Garrett (garote) wrote,

Uncle G's handy guide to appropriate swearing

(Written for my eldest nephews, why may find it useful)

There are people out there who think that any swearing at all is wrong. There are people out there who can't help swearing all the time, and think any censorship is wrong. Most people are somewhere in the middle.

Personally, I think swearing can be a lot of fun, and funny, and fine stress relief. But I also know that without controlling exactly where and when I use foul language in society, I wouldn't have nearly as much success in work, travel, and personal relationships. So! Time to find that middle ground.

This applies to words you speak, but also applies to music or movies you're playing out loud.

  • The basic idea is to keep things classy. So, in general, swearing is reserved for private space with good friends, or by yourself. It's possible to use swear words in a classy way, by deploying them strategically in very specific moments, but you'll have to observe and learn for quite a while to figure out how that works. Best to avoid trying it until you're absolutely confident you know what you're doing - which will probably be sometime after college.
  • When you're meeting anyone for the first time, avoid foul language. Eventually if the person becomes a close friend, and you observe them swearing, you can swear right along with them, as long as you follow the rest of this guide. But not until then! Always be classy by default.
  • For future reference: When you're by yourself in the car, with the windows up, and some other driver bothers you: Go ahead! Just don't lose control of the car. The idea is not for the person to hear you, but for you to vent your feelings in a safe way, instead of venting them with your driving.
  • When you're in your own house, and you know you're alone: Go for it! Just not loud enough to alarm the neighbors.
  • When you're in your own house, with just a cat: Go for it! Just not close enough to freak out the cat.
  • When you're in your own house, with just a dog: Only in gentle tones - dogs can be pretty sensitive.
  • When you're hanging out with friends who also swear: Fine, with various exceptions:
  • When your friends are in public: Not fine. Filter the swearing out. This includes school, restaurants, parks, and even just walking down the street - random strangers will judge you and your group based on it, which can be important in unexpected ways.
  • When your friends are hanging around with your family: Also not good.
  • When you're hanging out with your friend's family: Nope. Even if your friend swears, their family might not!
  • When you're hanging out with some friends who swear, and some who don't: Lower the swearing to the minimum common level, so everyone is comfortable participating. If your friends are smart they'll all do the same. If they're less smart, you can lead by example and they'll usually subconsciously learn from you.
  • When you're on the phone with a friend who also swears: Fine, as long as no one can overhear.
  • When you're leaving a voicemail: Make sure it's going to a smartphone only, not one of those answering machines with a loudspeaker!
  • When you're at work or in a classroom, at any time: Nope, never good. Workmates and classmates can overhear and form ideas about you, just like bosses and teachers.
  • At Apple I did find one single exception to this rule: After three years, I could be in the computer testing room, with one or two co-workers that I knew very well, and I could say really foul things out loud to the computers and make rude gestures at them. I was venting my frustration in a funny way for myself and my close friends. Think about how specific this situation was: The lab had no windows, and was behind a locked door that only a few people could open, and I was secure in my job, and I trusted my co-workers, and I knew they also used foul language. Those are the kinds of things to consider, when you're considering an appropriate time for swearing.
  • When you injure yourself unexpectedly and painfully, go ahead and use a few custom curse words if you want. Don't overdo it.
  • Sometimes you'll encounter people who swear, but are not your friends. Co-workers at work, strangers in public, et cetera. Keep it classy. If they're swearing directly at you, trying to hurt your feelings, do your best to defuse or avoid the situation. This of course means you don't swear back at them.
  • A quote from George Bernard Shaw explains the idea here: "Never wrestle with pigs. You both get dirty and the pig likes it."
  • Swearing is easy and often fun, but learning when NOT to swear is extremely important, because it can determine your fate in ways you're not even aware of. By keeping it classy, you gain access to people, and invitations to places. You earn trust. People will trust you to speak for them, and even to speak publicly.

Swearing in written form:

  • On a school paper, or in anything having anything to do with your job: Nope. Duh.
  • When you're texting a friend who also swears: Risky - depending on whether their parents are monitoring - but generally okay. Make sure nobody is reading over your own shoulder too!
  • When you're on a group text with friends who also swear: Even more risky. Remember you need to verify in advance that everyone in the group also swears, and a record of the conversation is now visible on multiple devices, even if you erase your own.
  • In anything that can be seen publicly: Bad idea. This includes forums and blogs, like Facebook and Tumblr, where you write messages that people can view later. And in the chat console of games, with anyone who isn't a close friend.
  • Yes, other people in chat consoles like those can get pretty dirty and offensive, even beyond swearing, but if you yourself stay classy, you will come across as more powerful, and win more allies, and strangers will tend to take your side in a dispute.
  • To put it generally: Classiness can be an effective weapon sometimes.
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