Is Swearing Bad Manners?

Where and when can you swear? Modern Manners Guy faces a dicey situation

Trent Armstrong
4-minute read
Episode #112

Is Swearing Bad Manners?

I received another email recently, and it deals with swearing in public. The particular email comes from someone we all know!

A Question from Modern Manners Guy 

This email comes from -- well, me! Let's see what I had to say.

Dear Modern Manners Guy,
I was eating out at a restaurant with my family the other night when a young man sitting at a table behind us began using profanity just about every other word. I couldn't see the person but I could hear him, and I'm sure my 4-year-old was able to hear as well. We were almost through with our dinner so I just stuck it out and hoped for the best. What advice can you give for this situation?

Modern Manners Guy

Is Swearing Bad Manners?

Well, me, I think I need to step back from this situation for a moment and talk about a bigger issue. Using profanity, no matter what is said or where it is used, is decidedly NOT mannerly.

There are many who swear because they don't know any better. That might be good, solid information for those folks who do know better now. Others curse for impact. They might think "Why would I use a kinder word when I'm looking to shake things up?" 

If your use of profanity is to make someone feel bad, you are completely missing the point of manners.

When looking at the manners of swearing, we need to think about what kind of impact our words are having. Using curse words can make you feel powerful, but this kind of language is defensive and belligerent. And if you use profanity to make someone feel bad, you are completely missing the point of manners in the first place. Manners are about putting someone before yourself and making him or her feel important. Swearing at or near someone will usually have the opposite effect. 

Yes, I did say "near someone." Attitudes are many times contagious. So someone just hearing you swear can begin to lose their positive outlook.

Swearing will also make others think you have a very simple vocabulary and you may lose any respect and admiration from them.

Where Can You Swear?

It is my humble opinion that there is no place that is suited for swearing. Let me just make this tip quick and dirty:

  • Do not swear in church or other house of worship.

  • Do not swear at work, school, or home.

  • Do not swear at your wife, husband, boyfriend, or girlfriend.

  • Do not swear at your parents or your kids.

  • Do not swear out of anger or elation.

  • Do not swear at anyone younger than you, anyone older than you, or anyone your age.

  • Do not swear.

If I Can't Swear, What Can I say?

"Well," you might say, "What do you expect me to do?! I have this set of really powerful words that you are asking me not to use again. What am I supposed to say?!"

Before you say anything, consider your attitude. Then, if you feel like you MUST use a really powerful word or phrase, I can actually provide documentation of other words and phrases that are wonderful alternatives to swear words and hold the same weight, if not more. Stick around for a short list of alternative curse words.

Also, curbing your cursing can take time. Don't give up if you're making the effort to replace swearing with manners. Check the notes at the bottom of this post for a website that can help with cuss control.

What Do I Do If Someone Around Me Is Swearing?

Now, let's get back to the original situation. Should you find yourself in earshot of someone who is using profanity, there are a few options. The first is to simply leave. Sometimes that's not possible so you'll need to intelligently asses the situation.

You might need to do what I had to at a football game. It is certainly within your rights, especially if you have your kids with you, to politely request that the offender stop swearing. Say something like, "Excuse me. I have my kid here. Would you please stop swearing?" As with any situation, if you are forceful and not polite, you might get yourself a free knuckle sandwich. So be firm without making it an order.

It's possible you'll realize that there is sure to be a black eye in your future if you bring it up. Yes, you should stand up for manners, but pick your battles wisely.

Alternatives to Swear Words

Now, as promised, a short list of alternatives to swear words:

Shucks, tater tots, son of a biscuit eater, son of a mother, son of a gun, rats, cheese whiz, dadgummit, dag nabit, sufferin' succotash, fiddle sticks, horse pucky, Jimminy Crickets, fudge, heck, Shiitake mushrooms, phooie, bricklayer, awww pickles, shoot a monkey, shapoopie, my stars, fiddle faddle, frak, shazbot, Great Scott, gee willakers, drat, and darn.


Thank you for joining me for another of The Modern Manners Guy's Quick and Dirty Tips for a More Polite Life.

If you have a question please e-mail it to manners@quickanddirtytips.com. You can also post a question or comment on my Facebook page or on Twitter. Drop by, join the discussions, and let us know about your manners situations.

 Man Covering Mouth image from Shutterstock