[The Sydney Morning Herald] How to: Disinfect a Potty Mouth

How to: Disinfect a Potty Mouth

Swearing. It’s arguably as much a part of the Australian identity as a Vegemite sandwich.

In recent weeks, Kevin Rudd has been embroiled in yet another, highly-predictable character slur, this time over his infamous F-bomb-riddled YouTube rant, and we hear that Kyle Sandilands (make what you will of those two names in the same sentence) is being sent for mandatory ‘decency training.’

It’s like puppy training, we assume, but for grown men who seem to have left their common courtesy and manners somewhere, way, way, back there.

2Day FM says that the training sessions underline its banned words, f..k, f..ker, motherf..ker, arsehole, bullshit, shit, f..kwit, c..t and c.ck, forcing on-air staff to “always apply the kids in the car test.”

As vile as some may see the habit, swearing is ubiquitous, particularly in high-pressure environments. It’s enmeshed in the day-to-day life of politics, clearly, from Rudd’s outburst. Indeed, in the US, a careerbuilder.com survey has just found that Washington DC ranks as America’s cursing-at-work capital (it also found that those aged 35 to 44 are the most likely to swear at work) – but politics is not alone.

Brisbane security guard Craig Symes was last month sacked for telling his manager, in no uncertain terms, to “get f—ed”. That guard finds himself in the happy position of being reinstated since Fair Work Australia deemed that cursing his boss was not a legitimate sackable offence. Ugly as it is, swearing is endemic.

In a straw poll of parents around me at work, every single one of them said that they sometimes find it hard not to swear in front of children. But, unlike Sandilands, they are not in public positions of authority.

That children pick things up is a given. Look no further than the dubious bastion of the American family that is Alaska’s Palin clan. Lifetime’s Bristol Palin: Life’s A Tripp recently showed Sarah Palin’s 21-year-old daughter’s son using the F-word in tantrum. He is just three years old.

For better or worse, f..k has become a verb, a noun and adjective: it’s far from a disgraceful rarity in everyday life. But, it’s not pretty, either. And Australian businesses may be starting to react to its negativity, too.

Jacob Galea, a Sydney-based business mentor, says that in the past 12 weeks alone, he has seen a spike in corporate clients seeking linguistic training.

“Swearing is part of our culture in Australia, but we are trying to clean up our business culture,” says the life coach who regularly helps CEOs and MDs tackle high-pressure work without relying on the “easy path” habit of expletives.

There is, I’ve always believed, a time and place for trademark cockiness, for earthy lingo that is true to character and place. Indelicate expression can be an artform, a swift and not-to-be-underestimated anger management tool and a vent for vexations. Or is it?

Maria Kangas, the Director of the Clinical Psychology training programs at Macquarie University says that swearing can create a hostile environment. “It is not a straight-out anger management tool because people are misapplying it and using it in a negative manner.”

Not only can it add to stressful situations, “but research in the States shows that continual use of swear words can be socially ostracising. People developed negative social relations in response to swearing behaviour.” In other words, you might find yourself with poorer service or less cooperative colleagues if you drop the F-bomb like it’s going out of fashion.

And while swearing has been shown to help with pain, it comes at the cost of other social benefits. Who wants to spend time with someone whose entire vocabulary is distilled to effing and blinding, no matter how pain-free they are?

But it’s not all bad. “When swearing is used in a contextual manner, for example when something bad happens – that may not be detrimental. If it is used playfully and not in an aggressive and condescending manner, it may even strengthen bonds.”

One-off expletives may be negligible, but there is a caveat. “If intentionally used in conflict, swearing is seen as aggressive and combative,” Kangas told Life & Style. “In anger management and impulse control, swearing is seen as a negative habit.”

The truth is, we know very little about its place in society, empirically speaking, but we do know from our own experience that cursing – like humour – often crosses a moral line.

“We have to adhere to social and cultural norms to fit into society. But morals come into play – when a swear word is used on radio, for example, a proportion of society will be highly offended.”

And, she says, when you combine that with the today’s technology, which effectively captures and stores much of our behaviour, good and bad, it is worth being even more mindful of who is listening.

Young ears are particularly worth muffling when it comes to Sandilands’ rants. Desensitised as adults may be, swearing is a power issue. “It’s about dominance and aggression. Children raised in verbally abusive environments are at risk of psychological and behavioural problems,” warns Kangas.

From being around children at home to being within earshot of a boss, it’s a minefield when it comes to finding a truly acceptable audience for cursing.

“I’d recommend not [swearing] in most situations,” urges Kangas. “Err on the side of caution – you have to know your audience.”

Quite apart from morals, especially when it comes to swearing around children, a disinfection of a monochrome palette might just add some colour to the linguistic proceedings. A more varied vocabulary can be no bad thing, kicking unimaginative curses into the backwater of indelicate expression: not clever, not amusing and not worth airing.

Whether or not Sandilands’ training will in any way influence his verbose bullishness remains to be seen, but if you are keen to clean up your verbal act, Galea has put together a six-step plan for Life & Style readers:

1 – Awareness. First be aware of the habit you have. Listen to the words you use.

2 – Create a frequency score card. Keep a tally of how many times a day you swear. Aim to lower your daily score.

3 – Expand your vocabulary. Learn some new and exciting buzz words with which to replace swear words. Indeed, Charles Duhigg, author of the The Power of Habit, writes on his website that “you can never truly extinguish bad habits. To change a bad pattern, you must insert a new routine into the habit loop.”

4 – Stop before you speak. Just before you speak, think. Rest and digest. Pause and ensure you know what you are going to say before you say it.

5 – Find an accountability buddy. Choose someone you trust, who cares about you and is authentic. Ask them to pick you up on your bad language.

6 – Live in style. Think about the woman or man you are trying to be. Swearing is not stylish.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/life/how-to-disinfect-a-potty-mouth-20120723-22jo6.html

joseph ferrone