When is it OK to swear? Scott Hanselman takes on the issue of using profanity in conference presentations, blog posts, and other public communications. I find this interesting because he brings it up in light of the Don’t Give Your Users Shit Work blog post that I linked to the other day. The main reason I didn’t link to it in the first place was the title. I don’t normally use profanity here, and I wasn’t really sure about using it even in a direct quote.
The thing is, I’m not a shrinking violet. In fact, I generally describe myself as being nearly impossible to offend, and I am never offended by profanity. However, I share Hanselman’s concerns about using profanity:
My question is, do swear words add as much as they subtract? Do they increase your impact while decreasing your potential audience? I believe that swearing decreases your reach and offers little benefit in return. Swearing is guaranteed to reduce the size of your potential audience.
In my opinion, using coarse language in public, whether it’s in a blog post, a conference presentation, or a meeting with a bunch of people don’t know well, violates the Robustness principle:
Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send.
If the impression people take from something I wrote or said was, “That guy has a foul mouth,” then chances are that I wasn’t able to get my point across. Besides, if you are sparing in your use of profanity, when you do swear, people really pay attention.