When should you swear at work?

Most communicators agree: Only when no other word will do. (And that ain’t often.)

Editor’s note: This column originally ran in April 2008, around the time CEO Mark Ragan issued the mandate that we were no longer allowed to use profanity in Ragan.com articles. We wonder whether communicators’ opinions on cussing at work have changed.

When Ragan.com editors picked me to make sense of communicators’ varied opinions on swearing in the workplace, they came to the right man.

I am of many minds on swearing. Or at least two. Both my parents were writers, but they had decidedly different attitudes about swearing. My mother used to tell me, “Your father wouldn’t say s— if he had a mouth full of it.”

So when it comes to opinions about swearing, I contain multitudes. And, judging from the 66 adamant commenters on a MyRagan forum discussion on the subject of swearing at work, so do you.

But what emerged from this spirited conversation is an agreement—or a near-agreement—that swearing is a powerful and potentially dangerous social tool that should never be used carelessly.

1. Swearing bothers some people a lot. Not swearing bothers no one.

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