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[Speaking-Out-Loud June 2015] Verbal shockers and their consequences
June 03, 2015

Welcome to the June Issue of Speaking-Out-Loud,'s newsletter to help you effectively "talk your walk".

In this Issue

Young woman swearing

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The F Word

Is it acceptable? Ever? When?

Would you use the F-word speaking in public?

There are increasingly numerous examples of influential people who swear while speaking publicly. Google swearing or the 'F-word and public speaking' and you'll find a slew of interesting discussions raising every shade of 'YES', 'NO' and 'MAYBE' over its acceptability.

While opinions vary over the rights or wrongs of using profane language there was one area where most agreed. That is that swearing gratuitously was not acceptable. So if you habitually pepper your talks with F-this, F-that and F-something else, you'll find yourself pleasing very few. It seems that most people interpret that as either trying too hard to be hip, or laziness. Neither are complimentary.

What do I think?

I think context is everything. If I stub my toe hard and I'm by myself I'm likely to cuss a bit. When I'm speaking in public I don't. I don't for several reasons. One is that I don't wish to offend the audience and another is that I want them to listen to my message. If I swear while delivering it at least half of them will focus on that, and stop thinking about what I'm trying to share with them. It will be a communication block rather than an enhancement.

Yet another of my reasons for not swearing belongs to my childhood. I still hear an echo of my Mother saying that those who swore were either 'show-offs' or had limited vocabularies. The way she told it both states were to be pitied.

'Showing off' was attention seeking behavior demonstrating a low self-esteem and the need to inflate it by playing BIG. On the other hand, a limited vocabulary was a sad state in her book. It denoted someone who for whatever reason had little education, or desire for it.

While I don't wholeheartedly endorse her beliefs now, there is some truth in them. Swearing simply to shock or create a scene is childish, and swearing because you have no ready alternative words to convey surprise, pain, love or anything else, is a type of poverty.

I can hear you

When I was teaching my office was next to a busy student corridor and I often overheard conversations featuring the F-word in multiple grammatical positions, demonstrating a flexibility worthy of an Olympian gymnast.

A typical exchange went something like this:

"F-k, I've got f-king English next and I've haven't done my f-king homework. I'm f-ked! What the f-k am I going to do? She'll f-king kill me. F-k it!"

It didn't shock me. Instead it was both sad, and wryly funny at the same time. Sad because they were trying so hard to be cool, and funny because any word used repeatedly undermines the communication robbing it of its intensity. It becomes ridiculous. The value of the word (shocking or otherwise) is diminished to placeholder status - a filler.

If you don't believe me, try it in the privacy of your own home. Listen to yourself. Can you take what you are hearing seriously?

(And incidentally, those students had perfectly good vocabularies. In other settings they did not swear.)

Looking back

Belonging to the baby-boomer age, I've got a few years to look back on. I can see and hear myself as a young person trying out the forbidden words. I can also remember when I entirely miscued whom I was speaking to. Instead of shock or admiration for being so daring, the response I got was revulsion. Apparently I was not clever, hip or 'with it'. I was simply a girl with a potty mouth, and I hated it. It was humiliating and a very good lesson. I did know better. In fact one of the things I loved most was words and their magic. It was a growing-up moment!

Back to you

If swearing is a regular feature of your public speaking are you doing it:

  • to be real or authentic?
    "This is the way I talk. Like it or lump it! To talk any other way would be a pretense."
  • to shock?
    A swear word especially if used by someone who doesn't habitually cuss, or you would expect not to because of their position, for example a teacher, leading politician, or doctor, shocks. That shock can be good because it sits people up straight and forces them to listen, or it can be bad because it turns people away immediately.
  • because it fits with your audience?
    That's how they speak and therefore to communicate meaningfully you need to use their language.
  • because you truly don't have alternatives?

Whatever your answers if you are going to use potentially shocking language of any sort, including the F-word, then it's my belief you need to be willing and ready to accept the consequences. That means assuming full responsibility for the words you say.

The danger zone - impromptu speech

It appears the F-bomb is dropped in impromptu rather than scripted speech. The instances making the headlines have all been spontaneous responses. The word is blurted bypassing conscious intervention.

What do you think about this?
Does the increased use of the F-word in public reflect a lessening of its shock value and growing acceptability?

Are you 'safe' to impromptu speak without unconsciously reaching for vulgarity to intensify what you say?

Let's hear from you. You are most welcome to comment on's FaceBook page, or hit reply and tell me what you think.

PS. If the F-word becomes commonplace parlance what will replace its previously privileged position as the worst word possible to utter?


Click the link if you'd like more on developing word power. The page has 10 suggestions with ongoing links for growing vocabulary.

For an indepth essay on the role of swear words in language please read this essay: What the F***. Why we curse by Harvard professor, psychologist and linguist Stephen Pinker

To tame the tendency to blurt out cuss words while impromptu speaking, practice. Click the link for impromptu speaking guidelines and topics.

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What's new

A round up of pages, either revamped with added information or new on the site.

  • Writing a persuasive speech. This is 7 step action plan giving a logical, sequential overview of the process of preparing a persuasive speech. You'll find ongoing links to pages of topic suggestions, an explanation of Monroe's Motivated Sequence and a sample speech.
  • Skype Coaching . If you have a presentation coming up and a need a hand with content, or want to work on impromptu speaking skills, or want to run through a special speech, a skype session could be just what you need.
  • How to rehearse. Writing your speech is the end of your preparation. It's a step in the process. The next one is practice. This page outlines 'best' practice to help you deliver your speech well.

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And now some inspiration from The Eloquent Woman ...

The top Public speaking pet peeves from frequent speakers and speech writers .

Open the page and you'll find ongoing to links to superb interviews covering a whole range of topics. I recommend the one from Marcus Webb on story telling!

Comment, share & connect

If you've got comments, feedback or questions you're most welcome to contact me through my about me page.

If you liked this issue of Speaking-Out-Loud, please feel free to send it on to any friends or family. The site url to forward so they can subscribe is Speaking-Out-Loud.

And I'd love to see you on's Face Book page too.

Until next time,
Happy speaking,


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