October 29, 2007
Not one, but two serious looks at the role of profanity were published lately.
First, eminent linguist Stephen Pinker wrote What the F***?, a lengthy examination of profanity in the New Republic.
I found fascinating the neurological explanation for the involuntary power and emotional nature of cursing, especially the demonstration of how hard it is to say the color of each word when a series of expletives is written in different colors.
My only quibble was when he supported Geoffrey Nunberg’s assertion that
“while you can imagine the dialogue How brilliant was it? Very, you would never hear the dialogue How brilliant was it? Fucking.”
While I haven’t said that myself, I know for sure that I’ve heard it.
A second study in the Leadership and Organizational Development Journal concluded
“Regular swearing at work can help boost team spirit among staff, allowing them to express better their feelings as well as develop social relationships.”
As a manager I am very careful, but I have definitely observed that phenomenon in the workplace. And it make sense. Your willingness to be yourself around others and break a taboo signals your closeness to them and that you trust them.