If you’ve ever sat through a speech smattered with curse words, derogatory deprecating slangs, and intense seriousness, how was it? Was it motivational, stirring, thought provoking, even riveting? Or was it something that caused you to wonder what really happened to this poor soul? Did you greet the speaker afterward, eager to book them for another round of venom, or did you quickly take your first available exit? It can work that way. One extreme reaction or another. Curse words, expletives (as we kindly assign them), while intended to provide emphasis, can be used to bring forth the essence of humor borne of frustration, irony, puzzlement, and consternation. Many a humorist has been propelled to stardom through a liberal use of common “slang”. But for the rest of us, off-center word choices can be deal-breakers.
The speaker advocate must convey a certain level of frustration with the status quo in order to bring an audience to common agreement. But there is a huge difference in “Do you see the problem?” and “Something must be done about this $%^&!”. In this space, this purpose of sharing insights gained from banging one’s head on the proverbial static hitching post of life, word choice can also convey a personal backdrop of insecurity, intense frustration, and a lack of control over one’s emotions. Listeners can be very astute, listening to the person, not just the message. Taking the route of blowing out personal frustrations on the stage can work, but usually not. The message can be lost. My ears perk up and I naturally begin to question the speaker’s, the motivator’s, real motivation. Don Miguel Ruiz’s idea that curse words are a sign of inner anger often rings true, and yes, I have my own full vocabulary. But audiences are not looking for a speakers “issues” which become transparent at the point of putting venting ahead of the purpose, they are hoping for answers and leadership.
Certainly there are instances where humor, story-telling and even reading a story to an audience will be littered with “everyday language”. There are a great many public speakers whose story of a pivotal event in their lives, which in the moment of unfolding was immediately met with a good cursing of the situation. With care, everything works in context. In the corporate world, the context can be very constrained due to the nature of a workplace culture and policies relative to employee (read that audience) comfort levels. This is where speakers fees are actually funded, and one colorful misstep will mean no referral.
Today, “whuthuh..!” is very common. It speaks to surprise, frustration, and all the good human emotions which can make a point and bring a laugh and basically serves as an acronym for omitting the rest of the words which are automatically associated with its ending. It does so effectively due to its omission. It doesn’t require anything else. There are many examples of non-cursing substitutes, and I always encourage a speaker that there is a better word, a sub word, or something less “in their face”. By using a better word, or getting on the edge of an expletive phrase but then holding back, we are conveying respect for our audience, and asking ourselves to rise above our personal matters for the sake of the message.
If a child were to repeat what you said, would you tell them “Don’t say that, it’s not polite.”? If you are using “those words” on stage, and you agree with this analogy, I ask you further… Why would you use those words toward your audience? And if I may be even more pointed here… How are your core values holding up on stage? Are you providing your best leadership image of yourself? The idea of a child repeating what you say makes a pretty good acid test.