It seems to be depressingly more and more likely to find that a blog article which looks promising is peppered with swear words – or one particular swear word that is repeated ad nauseum. I think that writers of such blog posts are making a grave error. Here are my reasons.
It’s unpleasant to read
I have a thing about swearing. It’s one thing to blurt out a swear word in frustration or when you’ve just caught your finger in the door, but when the swearing is being done in a controlled manner it is very unpleasant to listen to. A few weeks ago a neighbour came to our house and, for some reason, had decided to include a swear word in every sentence, for no apparent reason. It really was on the tip of my tongue to ask her to leave. I value my personal space, and I don’t like to have it polluted by inappropriate language. I feel the same about reading matter. The last thing I want while I’m eating my breakfast is to have a read a stream of foul language. I tend to stop reading at the first errant word. It’s frustrating, because I obviously wanted to read the article.
It makes the writer unrecommendable
Perhaps you are not bothered too much about the experience of the reader. A good writer will always put the needs (or presumed needs) of the reader first, but in today’s narcissistic age many writers write in order to put their own stamp on the world and to demonstrate how clever, important or fearless they are. If you are one of those writers, then you may as well stop reading this article now, because everything I say will fall on deaf ears. But if you do care about how others perceive you, then think about this: if you pepper your articles with swear words, it makes it impossible for anyone to recommend your blog.
As a case in point, there is absolutely no way that I would recommend a swearing writer on my website, or in the lists of resources I give out at the end of my courses or talks. On very rare occasions I have cited a particular article, with a language warning, but that is very much the exception to the rule. I have two reasons for this rule: one, if I find the swearing unpleasant, why should I subject someone else to the same experience? Two, I would be worried that it would suggest a lack of good judgement on my part.
I can’t be the only person who thinks along these lines. If that is the case, then people who swear in blog posts are needlessly restricting the scope of the word of mouth that tends to increase a blog’s readership.
We’ve all met the boss who thinks it’s macho to swear in meetings, or the colleague who swears all the time, but most professional people don’t behave in that way. Why would you behave that way online?
It’s potentially career limiting
Everyone these days looks up job applicants online, regardless of any laws prohibiting that on the grounds of fairness. So if you’re a headteacher and you discover that an applicant for a teaching post thinks it’s OK to swear in blog posts, would you employ him or her? I am sure that it would at least raise a question mark where there was not one before.
If the person who is writing is a consultant who does public speaking, I’d be reluctant to approach them to give a talk in case they swore during it. (When I was a teacher in one school, a guest speaker, presumably thinking this would be a good way of ingratiating herself wth the kids, swore mid-talk. There was a deathly silence, followed by polite applause when she finished her speech. The headteacher said to those of us near him, “I’m sure she will go on to carve out a great career as a speaker – but not in this school.”)
It implies that the writer is inarticulate
I pride myself on having a decent grasp of language, and of knowing how to find the right word or phrase when I’m not sure. Unless you are clever enough to use swear words to great humorous effect then resorting to the use of swear words indicates – to me at any rate – that you have a limited vocabulary. There’s nothing wrong with that, but why advertise the fact if it happens to be true? Or suggest it if it isn't?
Do you want to be listened to?
I’ve been in situations where someone is raving and shouting, turning the air blue with their language, and the only effect is that the person or people they are shouting at try to get them off the premises as soon as possible. I am pretty sure that such behaviour does nothing to get your point listened to or heard. In fact, it seems to suggest that you have a pretty weak case if the only way you can present it is through bad language.
What is the call to action?
The expression “call to action” is a piece of jargon applied to blog posts and other types of publishing. It means, what do you want the reader to do after reading your article? I tend to have a call to action like “Please comment on this post” or, more usually, “If you liked this article why not sign up to my newsletter?”. But it’s a useful question to ask: what do you want the reader to do after reading your article? Do you want her to commiserate with you? Do you want him to angry too? What? I suppose what I’m really asking is: what is the point of your article, and even more, what is the point of the swearing?
Even if half of your potential readership doesn’t mind swearing, that means that half of your potential readership does. Why risk alienating loads of people?
I think my remarks about swearing apply to thinly-disguised swearing or implied swearing too. I will, however, make an exception. As someone who was an avid reader of MAD magazine in my childhood, I still like the way they depicted swearing: @*#?!!. I think that gets the emotion across, but with a dash of humour!
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