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“Swearing constitutes a species of human behaviour so little understood, even by its most devoted practitioners, that an examination of its meaning and significance is long overdue.”

Anthropoligist Ashley Montagu, writing in 1967, predicted that swearing would develop new vigour, and even a life of its own, with cross-fertilsation between social groups producing new swear words of un-imagined colour and tone.

Montagu was only partly right though. He predicted many social trends accurately, but British swearing still lacks imagination just as it did 40 years ago, with most of us restricted by a limited range of a dozen words or so, and usually favouring just one or two.

But if we haven’t increased the lexicon very much, swearing has lost some of its taboo. We swear more, and more publicly. Some argue that we are becoming de-sensitised with swearing becoming all too common.

Does this mean that most people find it acceptable? Or is it restricted to younger employees who, like generations before them, will eventually grow out of it? The research does show that it is more common among younger staff members, and the ‘lower ranks’ in an organisation, but it also notes that the behaviour of some bosses is a little questionable.

The woman I mentioned in my previous post on swearing had been upset by the expletives of a younger colleague, but I have had other complaints about older managers regularly swearing around the office.
Now we have research that positively promotes swearing at work. It says that allowing staff to swear at work can benefit them and their employers.

A study from the University of East Anglia looked at the use of expletives and swearing in the workplace and found that they can serve a positive purpose. Professor Yehuda Baruch and colleagues identified the relevance and even importance of using non-conventional and sometimes uncivil language,

“Our study suggested that in many cases, taboo language serves the needs of people for developing and maintaining solidarity, and as a mechanism to cope with stress”, says Prof Baruch. While pointing out that there are limits – swearing is more common among younger staff and does not generally occur in front of customers for example – he said the use of swearing would continue to rise in the workplace and will become more of an issue for bosses and managers.

See details of Prof Baruch’s research here.

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