Mind your F-bombs on Twitter

7 Jul

It was only 30 years ago that John McEnroe infamously lambasted Wimbledon umpire Ted James on live television as “the pits of the world”.  His outburst was a catalyst for the introduction of delayed live feed.

Fast-forward to the present and it’s hard to imagine all the fuss made about such tame language. Today, very few words have the power to shock, and those that do seem constantly in our faces anyway. No doubt the mantra-like repetition is intended to dispel their power. Ya!

Beyond profanities, language continues to (de)evolve, mostly thanks to online environments. The use of abbreviations, acronyms and emoticons speeds things up as it drags things down. There are fewer perceptible degrees to the expression of emotions on the Internet. Amusement seems limited to funny: lol, very funny: LOL, and hilarious: LMFAO.

As a writer, I find it depressing. But we work with what we’ve got.

Which brings me to Twitter. One of the remarkable things about this environment is the nearly complete absence of profanity.

I was following someone who dropped the F-bomb last week and it was like a canon shot on a still night. I pulled up her profile and found that nearly all her tweets contained the F-bomb. It was her signature move, paying off everything with the witty use of the word. I Unfollowed her.

Is it because I’m a prude? Far from it. I’ve cussed. I’ve spit tobacco juice. But there is something decent and grown-up about chosing not to be profane. Research shows that tweets containing swear words, abbreviations, emoticons and acronyms are less likely to be retweeted.

Twitter has a tacit social contract. Personally, I like that idea. What do you think?


4 Responses to “Mind your F-bombs on Twitter”

  1. barry July 7, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    Couldn’t agree more Doug, thanks for having the guts to say so… not much else I can add really… except I’d also like to hear less of it in public, esp wherever kids can be found… takes away their innocence, in my perception anyway. But I have a feeling we’re in the minority.

  2. Mario Parise July 7, 2010 at 10:12 am #

    As a marketer, I agree. But that’s because I recognize that the old F-Bomb will turn away people, and our job is bring them in.

    As a person, though, I couldn’t care less. It’s just a word. I cuss like there’s no tomorrow when I feel confident that the people around me won’t be offended.

    I do this at home a lot, which my kids have also learned. I thought it was funny until they started doing it at school. I should have known better, and I’m careful around them now just so they don’t get in trouble at school. But there’s something weird going on when a kid can both be labeled as a potty mouth and a role model for other students. (I’m not kidding. It was the weirdest report card ever. “She’s a role model for other children, a hard worker, incredibly polite, and always ready to help. But she cusses on a daily basis; please talk to her about this.”)

    This notion that certain words are offensive simply because everyone says they are is silly. Take the f-bomb. What does it actually mean? There are dozens of perfectly un-offensive words that mean those same things. Which tells us that the meaning of the word isn’t offensive – we’ve simply arbitrarily decided at some point long ago that it was rude. Even as kids, we learn that it’s perfectly ok to yell out “Fudge!” in frustration, even though everyone knows we really mean F—.

    Meanwhile, plenty of racial slurs pass even the staunchest of censors. (Many don’t, but there are still many others that do.) Sexist language continues to be perfectly acceptable. Indeed, our system of words was created long ago by people with horrendously offensive beliefs that are thankfully very out dated, but they continue to influence how we talk about things. Which just makes it so much harder for me to take concerns about the F-Bomb too seriously.

    All of that being said, we’re in business. When we write, we write to appeal to people’s interests. Cussing in our writing unnecessarily limits our potential audience, because plenty of people do take offense to such words. Why take any chances? From a purely marketing standpoint, cussing appeals only to the college crowd. This was evidenced by the fool-hardy “FLICK OFF” campaign or the clothing brand FCUK. Yeah, we get it. You’re playing with the F word. Haha, so clever…

  3. dougbrowncreative July 7, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    > Baz, ironically the kids don’t even hang out on Twitter, so we’re not being good role models or anything like that. It’s just for us.

    > Mario, thanks for the thoughts. You’re right. Words take on meaning outside of what they are meant to describe. A harmless noun becomes a galvanizing racial epithet. I guess the worst that can be said about such jargon is that they lack imagination. But I will not deny the impact of a well-placed profanity!

    I don’t swear in front of my daughter because she will repeat it back to me immediately, and to others eventually. I know this is true because she repeats back whatever words I use in their place. Her teacher recently commented on her colourful repertoire of smack-the-foreheads exclamations. “Holy Lipton!” and “Great Globs!” being a few she singled out. And you know where those came from, and what sorts of expressions they replaced.

  4. barry July 7, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    Well then, I jolly well say to Heck with both of you 😀

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