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Learn the truth and consequences of using four-letter words.
By Kim Goss
Published: Summer 2002

Itís been said that first impressions are always the strongest and most lasting. If you want your first encounters to be positive, you can stay ahead of the game by learning what James V. OíConnor has to say about talking dirty.
OíConnor is the founder of the Cuss Control Academy, an organization that helps people clean up their language. In addition to lecturing about this topic across the nation, he has been a guest on Oprah and has appeared on the CBS Evening News and radio stations across the globe. His book, Cuss Control: The Complete Book on How to Curb Your Cursing, reveals the dangers of profanity and presents practical strategies for reducing how much we swear.
Because effective communication is a key component of the BFS Be An Eleven program, I was very interested in what an expert had to say about this topic. In this exclusive interview, OíConnor shares his insights about swearing, particularly how the problem affects coaches and young athletes.

BFS: What got you so interested that you felt the need to write a book and lecture on the topic?

JO: I was a swearer myself, but in swearing I was always discreet, just as others in earlier generations used to be more discreet. But when swearing became so blatant everywhere, I decided it was excessive and I stopped swearing. I knew there were others who wished they could break the habit of swearing, so once I figured out how to do it myself, I wrote the book. There are a few books that discuss the history of swearing, but this is the only one about how to break the habit. What I teach is cuss control, not cuss elimination. My message is that although some people will continue to swear---itís a way to communicate---itís overdone and there are alternatives that are less abrasive and more effective. I wrote Cuss Control for adults, but itís a great book for teenagers to read because thereís so much about behavior and relationships. I wish I had read a book like it when I was young to show me that what I say can affect the way people perceive me. Teenagers will be pleasantly surprised that the book is humorous and lighthearted, with funny anecdotes and interviews.

BFS: How do you define swearing?

JO: Thatís a difficult question because there are different degrees of swearing, with some words being more offensive than others. But you could say that swearing is using any words you know you cannot say in front of an open microphone or in front of your little sister.

BFS: What types of swearing are there?

JO: I use two classifications of swearing: casual and causal. Casual swearing is swearing that we do just because itís lazy language---we donít want to think of a more appropriate word, or we do it to be funny. Causal swearing is swearing caused by an
emotion---be it anger, frustration, or an announcement of pain.

BFS: Where did swearing originate?

JO: Nobody knows for certain, because many words were considered taboo so they were simply never written down. However, we do know that the
s-word has been around for at least a thousand years and the f-word since at least 1485.

BFS: Are there any laws against swearing?

JO: Yes, but they vary by state and different regions of each state. Most of these laws are not enforced because theyíre old laws, and since they were passed the language has evolved and societyís attitude about swearing has been modified as well.

BFS: Is swearing a problem just in the US, or do other countries worry about it?

JO: Iíve done interviews from radio stations in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, England and Canada, and at least in the English-speaking countries, swearing is a problem.

BFS: Is swearing related to income, social status, or intelligence?

JO: It used to be, but thatís changing. Itís certainly common in many professions, such as the military, and itís often pervasive among athletes.

BFS: Do women swear as much as men now?

JO: Not quite, but theyíre getting there.

BFS: Why are swear words so popular?

JO: Largely because of their versatility. The fact is, the f-word and the s-word account for about 70 percent of all the swearing we do because theyíre so versatile. People use a swear word because itís easier than thinking of more appropriate words. However, more appropriate words often have more feeling, more meaning. Look at the expression, ďI feel like sh--!Ē What does than mean? Are they physically ill? Emotionally depressed? Do they feel guilty? That expression could mean many different things, so it really doesnít communicate effectively. Nor does the tone generate much sympathy!

BFS: Many comedians swear. Isnít there some humor associated with swearing?

JO: Definitely. When comedians first started swearing on TV and other forums, it was funny because they were breaking taboos, breaking the rules. Now thatís become worn out and excessive, and itís also lazy humor. Really good humor is clever, itís witty---the comedians who have to rely on swearing are just not as talented as the others.

BFS: Many words considered swear words in the past, such as damn, are not as powerful as they once were. Is this a positive trend, perhaps a sign that weíre more tolerant?

JO: As our language has evolved, society has accepted more terms---and we were much too repressive in the past. Because the word damn was used in the movie Gone with the Wind (ďFrankly, my dear, I donít give a damn.Ē), the director was fined $5,000. That seems ridiculous now.

BFS: Do young people swear more now than 10 or 20 years ago?

JO: Yes, and swearing has trickled down to grade school and even preschool kids. One of the reasons is that swearing was pretty taboo prior to the 1960s, but after what I call the ďliberation generationĒ came along, everyone started using it more freely. When they became parents and swore in front of their children, the children picked it up.

BFS: Do you believe the media have anything to do with the continual increase in swearing?

JO: Yes, I think the media are very responsible. Movies in particular, because movies set trends. If you are watching a movie and you see movie stars whom you really admire and theyíre using this language, that seems to authorize it for you too.

BFS: Do you go to movies?

JO: I love the movies, but Iíve noticed that swearing often doesnít seem to fit into the character development or the plot. Even in Disney cartoons they throw in one or two words that may offend some parents who wonder, ďWhy are they saying that?Ē

BFS: Did you see the movie version of South Park?

JO: Yes.

BFS: Did you laugh?

JO: Yes, it was very funny. I thought the story line was quite clever and the characters were hilarious, but the movie would have been funny with much less swearing. Whatís interesting is that when I saw it, a couple of guys in their 20s were sitting in front of me. They were in hysterics when the little cartoon kids started swearing, but after about 30 minutes they didnít laugh at that anymore, only the parts that were authentically funny.
BFS: What are some of the problems with swearing?

JO: The biggest problem is often not with the words themselves, but the tone or the attitude behind the words---they can be very hostile and bitter. Who wants to be around someone who is often angry, negative, and just plain unpleasant? Swearing influences the way people judge you---your character, your intelligence, your maturity. Swearing can also be very harmful to relationships, both at work and at home.

BFS: Doesnít swearing help get your message across, enhance your language?

JO: Swearing gets across the message that youíre upset, but I think that too often thereís no reason for people to be so mad. In everyday life, things go wrong, accidents happen, people make mistakes. In the past people usually just deal

James V. O'Connor's Cuss Controll Academy helps people clean up their language.
Using alternative words is one way to help prevent using language that may offend others and reflect poorly on your charater.

Posting signs with slogans such as the ones shown here by O'Connor is one way to help yourself and others be mindful of their language.

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