Why Avoid Profanity in your Public Speaking

Profanity is almost everywhere. According to the American Heritage Dictionary the definition of the root of the word profane is: to treat with irreverence, to put to an improper, unworthy, or degrading use, abuse. Profanity then is defined as the use of abusive, vulgar or irreverent language. Wikipedia adds rude and insulting to the definition.

When speaking privately or publicly...

Is there any good reason to be abusive?
Is there sound logic to degrade anyone or the words we use?
Any benefit to using improper speech?

Standards are relaxing. Words once never allowed on television are now common place. Movies and entertainment are filled with what used to be considered profane. It has become a part of many languages around the world. Now you are just as likely to hear the same words uttered from a woman or child as used to be only from a coarse man.

Man does not live by words alone, despite the fact that sometimes he has to eat them.
--Adlai Stevenson

In the August 2010 Psychology Today article it was reported that in the mid 1990s the use of swear words by men was 67 percent for women 33 percent. Just 10 years into the future in 2006 the numbers grew closer with 55 percent of men using profanity and and 45 percent of women using the bad words.

Even worse, it has entered into public speaking.

The international scope of potential audiences creates an added problem. What is considered acceptable or mildly profane in one culture or language usage may be considered highly offensive in another. Such irreverence in some instances could result in your death or threats such as one author experienced for violating what was considered holy by some. So it is important to consider which words to avoid.

Bottom Line...In Public Speaking...

  • Do not use profanity.
  • Do not use swear words.
  • Do not use vulgar language.
  • Do not use irreverent language.
  • Do not use sarcasm.
  • Do not use abusive speech.

The Life and Times of Profanity

Originally it had reference to blasphemy, sacrilege, or using God’s name in vain. Today it also includes derogatory, sexual and racist expressions. It can be referred to as swear words, curse words, dirty words, four letter words.

Acceptable everyday language from one country or language may be unacceptable when translated into another. An example would be Pidgin English. Some words used would be considered grossly wrong to use in American and Great Brittan English.

Yes, some otherwise profane words are acceptable in their culture although they are not used by those who are bilingual. Such words are not used with any other than native speakers.

It also has geographical and nationalistic differences.

In the United States the profane is usually related to bodily functions, sex or the sexual act, degrading a person by relating them to a body parts, and relating people to the male and female dogs. Although perhaps less commonly used, there are still some racial profanities.

In some instances they are considered acceptable to be used by some elements of the race they are about without being considered offensive. However if another uses the racial slur, someone of another race, it is considered an insult.

Please note, there will still be those highly offended. This includes both those of the race and those of other races because of the hypocrisy such speech demonstrates. In the entertainment world people will get up and walk out of a show that overuses improper words or content. In a public speech, they may only stop listening. You will lose all credibility.

In other countries the profane may be more of a religious nature. What is considered improper speech is somewhat unique depending on the audience you are speaking to in different parts of the world.

Rather than learn all the profanities to know what to avoid, just learn the proper and correct language you’re speaking in and strive for Speechmastery in that language.

To appreciate the reason for taking this attitude, consider a United States Treasury agent. They do not study the counterfeit money as they are constantly changing and new ones will always appear. Rather they will study the real thing. Thus they will always be able to recognize what is bad.

Do the same with the language you speak in. Learn how to do it correctly using the best words and it will never be a problem even with changing meaning of words.

If You are Public Speaking Abroad

If you are not a native speaker, before you give a speech in another country find out if there are any common mistakes made by public speakers.

Some Languages Have No Profanity.

According to James Kaywaykla of the Apache Nation, born about 1873 in New Mexico, USA, "I am very proud of the fact that in our language there is no profanity."

He went on to say regarding the procreative act (so often the basis for much of the American foul language), “For the privilege of sharing in the creation of a new life, we give thanks to the Creator of Life.” From Native Heritage, edited by Arlene Hirschfelder.

Transliterated Swear Words

Often people from one land will use irreverent speech from another land not knowing the implications or actual meaning of the swear words they are using. One example comes from England and words used there by people in the United States. A second example is native English speakers using Yiddish swear words. If you are to ever ask someone what the words they use mean often times they will not know.

Again, if you don’t know what it means, don’t use it. Better yet, don’t use swear words at all.

How Often is Profanity Used?

According to Wikipedia, in the US about 72% of men, 58 of women, 61 percent of adolescents use swear words in public. Please note: no source of this information was given.

Use of this kind of language does not strictly fit any demographic model. Where as in the past it was only used by the poorest and least cultured in society, now it can be heard from all kinds of people and all different walks of life.

There does seem to be some correlation with socioeconomic groups and usage. People who watch cable TV, soldiers, people who work as blue collar labor in large cities tend to be among the offenders.

In the nursing profession, women nurses tend to use it more often than male nurses in my experience. Also, the larger the hospital the greater the tendency it will be used. It is also a reflection of the culture of the hospital as well. I have found where there is a corporate culture of respect it tends to be non-existent among nursing staff even in large cities.

Dare to be Different and Don’t Use Curse Words

With the persuasive use of irreverent speech in the world around us, why not be different. Don’t use it at all. In private speech and especially in public speaking. It will be a benefit in how people perceive you. It will also benefit how others speak around you.

I find people I work with tend to not use it around me at all. Should it slip out, an instant apology will be expressed by the offender. Also others who do not appreciate it will express their appreciation for not having to be subject to hearing swear words. Most of all, there is no risk of offending anyone of any culture if you never use profanity.

The Speaking Skill Department: Beyond Avoid Profanity Public Speaking Home: The Avoid Profanity Public Speaking Website

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