Can I Use Profanity in a Speech or Podcast? (Part 2)

Swearing can be persuasive if you do it right. The Public Speaker explores how profanity can be used effectively when public speaking or in a podcast. 

Lisa B. Marshall,
January 24, 2014
Episode #235

Page 1 of 2

Imagine if you dropped a glass and broke it and you said “Oh, purse!” It sounds funny because the word purse doesn’t carry a negative meaning. Well, that’s not entirely true. My husband usually has a negative reaction when I say “Hey, do you like my new purse?” But that’s a different topic altogether.

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When you drop a glass and break it, you’re probably going to yell “Oh s**t!!! That’s because it’s your first and most emotional reaction. If you had a chance to stop and think about it, you might choose a different word.

Profanity is often a quick, unfiltered reaction to an emotional situation. But there are times when profanity can be used deliberately to add emphasis or persuade your audience.

In Part 1 of this series I gave you some reasons you should probably avoid profanity in your podcast or speech. But now I want to talk about when profanity might be used to actually enhance your message:

Tip #1: Swearing Can Be D**n Funny

Comedians are our best example of public speakers who use profanity well. Shortly before he died, comedian George Carlin was asked about the idea that a comedian who uses swearing as part of their performance isn’t funny enough without it. Here’s how he answered that criticism:

"There are also a few business speakers that fall into this category, [saying] 'You don’t need to; you’re a funny man, you don’t need that stuff.' Well, my argument is that you don’t need paprika or oregano or a few other things to make a stew, technically, either — but you make a better stew. If you’re inclined to make a stew of that type, 'seasoning' helps."

Carlin pointed out that he could do an entire routine on TV with no profanity, but when it’s his option, he chooses to use it.  “Why should I deprive myself of a small but important part of language that my fellow humans have developed?” says Carlin.  “Why not use all of what we’ve developed to communicate with?”

Comedians who don’t normally swear sound strange when they do. Carlin mentions Bill Cosby as someone who has chosen not to use profanity. His audience would probably be uncomfortable if he suddenly let out a string of four-letter words during one of his routines.

Comedians and public speakers have a lot in common. If you’re a public speaker who’s known for using more colorful language, your audience probably wants to hear it and would be disappointed if you didn’t. But if it’s not part of your persona, using profanity won’t sound authentic.


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