Strong opinions, weakly held

Profanity limits your audience

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.


  1. Bob Sutton has blogged a lot about his decision (and insistence to his publisher) to name his book ‘The No Asshole Rule‘ as well as some of the ramifications.

    In his case, he decided that that particular title was so poignant that it was worth the problems that he’s subsequently had with the book due to its name.

  2. Zach Holman agrees with the argument yet draws a different conclusion: “The emotions they raise can’t be reached as succinctly with other tools. […] I’m less concerned about my overall reach than I am with connecting with my audience. I’m content with losing a handful of people if that means I connect much stronger with everyone else.”

  3. I love the appropriate use of profanity, and engage in it myself on occasion, but I try to pick my forums carefully and understand that it puts a lot of people off. I’m glad that there are foul-mouthed programming blogs out there but they are self-limiting in audience, for sure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


© 2024 rc3.org

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑