The C-Blog : The PR Guide to Swearing

by Stuart Milne

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

One Scottish PR Agency Minds Their Language on a Foul-Mouthed Start to the Year

Scream graffiti used by Scottish PR Agency

SCOTLAND as a nation is not known for its shyness around what might be termed more flowery language.

Good recent news then that swearing is good for you!

This year however, headlines in England and New Zealand about uses of the crown prince of cusses, the much despised and increasingly used C-bomb, have already grabbed our interest.

Calling someone a “Cranky Sue”, as is euphemized in hit sitcom 30 Rock, is amongst the highest insults and most endearing uses of the English language depending on which country you’re in and who you ask.

It is not surprising, then, that PR pros (even in swearier climes) avoid it, along with all other curses, like the plague.

Most unusually though there has been an unexpected source of foul-mouthery that produced an even less expected outcome for a British institution, as a crown court judge dropped this particular bomb while sentencing a defendant.

Fed up with his continued poor attitude and verbal assault the QC deployed the mother of all swears promptly before sending him down.

We were only reminded of the anomalousness of this event days later by some for more proactive and unprovoked swearing. This time the offensive offenders came fresh from the rugby pitch as two professional rugby players came under fire for employing language in front of two parking attendants that may have seen them sat on the sidelines for ten minutes had they done so in front of the referee.

There is a clear difference between these two stories. To some the use of the word is never acceptable (sorry, mum!)  but even those who are most outraged by its use must concede that Patricia Lynch QC’s is less malicious than our unnamed pro athletes and, if you have the right hat on, even a tad funny.

Intuitions on this matter will undoubtedly be divided but there are lessons to be learned if we tease apart the differences.

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Firstly, never uses a swear-word in malice*. It heightens aggression and aggressive behavior rarely comes off sympathetically.

Lynch QC might prove to be an exception to this rule but there is a definite deficit to her credit when compared to the Chiefs outbursts. Sure she might out of line but she is responding in kind.

To be honest, as a rule of thumb *never use a swear-word at all. It is a rare occasion when it is met with applause

As funny as you might think it is, you are (probably) not a comedian so the chances of your joking falling flat are too high.

This point also feeds into a broader point – never seek out the controversy of doing so. It is one thing to let it slip and quite another to make a premeditated statement. And certainly don’t trust that you are a good enough actor to make one seem like the other.

Controversy can sometimes be harnessed, and even produced, to generate interest but swearing is a lazy way to do that even if you are convincing in your delivery.

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What softens our attitudes towards m’lady is the sheer understandability of her actions – she is simply doing her job and copping abuse for it – much like the maligned traffic wardens.

That is not to say we are all innocent of seeing a penalty notice on our windscreen and muttering something very rude indeed. But ultimately, that’s your fault and not the warden’s.

If you ever do break the golden rule, apologise immediately.

Apologising for your wrong-doing is the norm and the gracious thing to do. Now is not the time to double-down.

All this seeks to underline is that preparation is everything.

Off the cuff quips are rarely quite as ad-libbed as they appear and hours of drilling and practice are involved in producing the perfect camera-friendly soundbite.

Remember, if you are lucky enough to have people listening to you, mind your language!

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