I had an editor once that tried awfully hard to sell me on writing a story about what people thought about cussing at work. I was never clear on why a newspaper reporter would write such a newsworthlessness topic, so I didn’t. If only I’d had this news peg from a lawsuit filed against Knicks coach (if you can call him that) Isiah Thomas, I could have turned this piece for New York magazine (warning: f-bombs to follow).
âRevolting profanity doesnât have any place in the office,â says Peter Post, a director at the Emily Post Institute (and great-grandson of the priestess of politesse herself). âBut occasional swearing? Thatâs no big deal if the culture of the workplace permits it.â The culture of the Garden (none of the bosses seemed troubled when Stephon Marbury had sex with an intern in a truck outside a strip club) would seem to be profanity-friendly. And itâs not the only one. Office cursing is so prevalent that pollsters havenât even bothered to ask about it since 2002, when Public Agenda found that 44 percent of Americans hear foul language âoftenâ in our daily lives. A 2004 British survey found that 76 percent of Brits swore regularly at work.
Workplace profanity is everywhere, starting with our elected leaders, like Eliot (âIâm a fucking steamroller!â) Spitzer and Dick (âGo fuck yourself!â) Cheney, and continuing to our unelected moral arbiters, like Golden Globeâwinning Bono (âfucking brilliantâ). In Fresno, California, former deputy mayor Roger Montero resigned in April after admitting that he used âcoarse languageâ on the job but denying that his language constituted sexual harassment. And a Virginia dentist, Steven Afsahi, was fined $9,000 in 2004 by that stateâs Board of Dentistry in part for using profanity in front of patients.
Indeed, religious beliefs aside, swearing seems to be workplace sensitive, acceptable at the opposite ends of the white-blue collar spectrum, but less so in the middle. This jogged to memory the story of a 15-year-old Indiana girl who last year e-mailed The Washington Post wondering if all journalists swear.
“Last year our journalism teacher showed us the movie ‘All the President’s Men.’ This teacher states that journalists all speak with lots of profanities as shown in the movie. I would appreciate some insight into this scenario from your point of view. I have wondered if it was a guys-only thing or perhaps a decade in time when people spoke with more abandon and less courtesy. I hope that this is not some sort of a prerequisite for joining the journalism field.”
Yes, Tori, many journalists curse. They curse when their computers break down, when people lie to them, when they make mistakes and when they’re on deadline. But usually, they’re nice to people and sometimes, but not always, to their editors. Please don’t think that cursing is a prerequisite to be a journalist.
Tori later told her local paper, in a 22-paragraph story no longer online, that she probably didn’t want to be a journalist anymore. Sad as that is, it seems most the reporters I’ve worked with over the past three years have reached the same conclusion. Only they were cursing a low-paying, under-appreciated job.