When Bad Words Can Be Damn Good Communication

Some bad words are used in this post, the reason why is explained within. This post is an observation, not an encouragement to use the language yourself. If you are offended, leave a comment and explain why!

The more the content sounds like you getting drunk on a Friday night with a bunch of your friends and its four o’clock in the morning, and someone is slamming the piano, and another guy is rolling around on the ground for no reason. And then somebody says something… and everybody cracks up: That’s your content.

Julien Smith

According to people who count these things the movie Goodfellas uses the f-word 300 times.

Some people get offended by language like this and they’ll turn off the DVD after one or two utterances. They say it is unnecessary, and that the people using words like this lack a proper vocabulary, and instead substitute four-letter words, and that these people are dumb, and should read a book sometime… if they can read.

There’s this writer named Julien Smith. He reads a new book every week (they aren’t comic books either). He co-authored a book a few years ago that made the New York Times bestseller list.

My favorite post on Julien’s blog is one called The Short and Sweet Guide to Being Fucking Awesome.

And like Forrest Gump said about Abbie Hoffman: He likes to use the f-word, a lot.

So what’s the deal with Julien? He doesn’t sound very dumb, or like he lacks a vocabulary. He’s got a popular blog, his stuff has been in GQ and Cosmopolitan, he says he’s got a good looking girlfriend, and he’s fucking awesome (in fact, he wrote the book on it).

Now there are some writers and comedians who say the f-dash-dash-dash word a lot. To the point where it’s absurd, not necessary, and not funny at all. This is what people like Julien and those that read his blog understand: There is a time and place where it is appropriate and effective, and there are times where it isn’t. Good communicators know the difference.

When Gary Vaynerchuk gives a speech and says: “Everybody has time. Stop watching fucking Lost.” It’s different than saying: “Instead of watching TV, go build your business.” The first one inspires me to use my time more wisely, the latter well, doesn’t. Even “Everybody has time. Stop watching Lost” feels a bit more lame. Gary is trying to excite and inspire people here.

In addition to knowing the appropriate time, the key here is that these guys can back it up. Beyond the swearing, Gary has written two books about business and neither one has a single bad word. The content in them is also damn good. Julien will say a few bad words throughout his posts, but the majority of the content is appropriate for all ages. If he was just a bad blogger who used bad words too, nobody would care. Because swearing, in itself, isn’t enough to attract attention.

In a few years and my over 5,000 tweets, less than ten include a bad word and most of those were to another individual who I knew well. None of them use the f-word. I write a blog too though, a different one than you’re reading now, and on its Twitter I have been more liberal in my word selection, because it’s a different audience and they get it. But at the same time, the blog itself is mainly about news and so the nearly 500 posts are clean.

A large part of communication is knowing your audience, and it seems that if your audience is the whole internet, most of them won’t get their panties in a bunch over a few bad words. If you’re in a business setting, adapt your message to that audience. If you’re talking to a bunch of second graders, adapt your message to that audience. If you’re talking about baseball, adapt your message to that audience. Most of the time there’s really no reason to be swearing—maybe if you’re a Pirates’ fan. Just because you swear in one setting, doesn’t make you incapable of carrying on a competent, clean conversation in another.

Teachers tell people to watch what they put online all the time, and your online persona should be something you keep an eye on (increasingly your ‘online persona’ is equal to your ‘persona’). I’m sure they have our best interest at heart, but mostly what they are referring to are idiots who get wasted and post pictures of themselves shirtless on Facebook.

But just in case, if you’re an employer and I’ve applied for a position with you, and you’re checking out my blog and you’re upset I’m using bad words, e-mail me at pmreddick (at) gmail (dot) com and I can explain to you how I know how to act in a proper business setting. Or hire me and I’ll prove it. Unlike your other candidates I have no drunk pictures on Facebook. (I don’t drink, so they don’t exist.) Then again, if you’ve made it this far you probably get it by now.

There is a line somewhere, whether we like to admit it or not, it’s there. And in today’s world it’s better to risk falling over that line then hanging back scared. Goodfellas had good content and if it hadn’t pushed the line it would have turned out to be a good movie. But it did push the line and it is a great movie. If Joe Pesci had said, “You know Spider, you talk funny,” rather than, “You know Spider, you’re a fuckin’ mumbling stuttering little fuck. You know that?” the National Film Registry probably wouldn’t have deemed it “culturally significant” and put it in the Library of Congress.


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