Swearing online and in person

Curses!!! Foiled Again.

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending my third WordCamp Portland event. As usual, it was a great event. It is consistently one of my favorite events of the year.

During one of the sessions led by Aaron Hockley, the topic of ‘personal brand' (a term I'm not a big fan of, but for lack of a better one) came up. It's something I wrestle with a bit and I wanted to throw my situation to the room and see what they had to say about it. I said something to the effect of:

If you hang out with me in person you'll find that I swear. I swear a lot. I swear like a sailor. But, you will rarely, if ever, catch me swearing on my blog, Twitter or Facebook. This originally started because of my kids and just trying to keep my content clean in case they were around it. Then, I started a business and the line between my ‘personal brand' and my business virtually disappeared. People who know me online know that I am VegasGeek and am also 9seeds. So, keeping it clean now seems like the right thing to do for the business.

After a bit of discussion, CamiKaos grabbed the mic and gave an interesting perspective. Cami had interviewed me back in 2009 at WordCamp Portland and she remarked that we had been chatting casually for a while before the interview, but as soon as the camera was on, Bam! I went in to ‘professional' mode.

I asked Cami if she had noticed specifically that I don't swear online. Without hesitation she said yes.

I immediately started thinking about the people I know both online and in person. Do I notice when they swear? (sure) Does it change the way I feel about that person? (nope) Do I notice when somebody swears in person, but doesn't swear online? (not really) And, as a business owner, the most important question, would I choose not to work with somebody because they swear? (nope)

I brought this up at dinner after WordCamp. Todd said that I didn't swear that much, but that the swearing increases proportionally based on the number of beers that have been consumed. It's funny because it's true.

I'm curious what you think.
– Do you think it hurts somebody's ‘personal brand' if they swear (online / in public)?
– Do you think a potential client would base a decision on it?
– Do you think somebody's ‘personal brand' extends to their company/job?
– Do you think this is all a moot point thanks to the amount of tattoos I have? 🙂

(image from flckr user joeshlabotnik)


  1. shayne on September 21, 2011 at 9:23 am

    Fuck! oh.woops….

    I do agree with you that it could cause potential clients to look elsewhere, but honestly – if it’s not swearing it would be something else (like your tattoos). I am a big believer in being yourself so I don’t filter -that- much but there is a time and place for everything. I don’t purposefully go swearing on the facebook and twitters but if it happens, it happens – its’ who I am and that’s not going to affect the type of work that I do, so those that realize that – cool. Those that don’t, then I probably don’t need them anyway I suppose.

    I’ve yet to include swear words in my contracts 🙂

    • Shelby on September 21, 2011 at 9:49 am

      While you know I hate to agree with you Shayne, this time you got me. I agree fully with everything you said. I don’t try to go out of my way to swear online, but I do its who I am and well while the filter is usually on sometimes I do let go. And in the end if a potential client has a problem with that, well sorry but thats who I am and as said it has no bearing on my work nor do my tattoos.

  2. Ema on September 21, 2011 at 9:26 am

    I don’t think its so much the swearing itself and the language used by people as a whole. Swearing isn’t bad in itself, but swear words can be used as a club.

    I had a wonderful alcohol-fuled conversation with you post-WordCampLA…we were both swearing at the end of the evening…but it wasn’t crude and insulting, it was used for emotional emphasis. 🙂

  3. christine on September 21, 2011 at 9:28 am

    I don’t think that it will hurt your brand. Your swearing is just part of your brand. As Shayne mentions, it’s important to be who you are and if clients don’t like it, then they will just go somewhere else. The same reasoning could be applied to religious views or political opinions.

    Personally I swear quite a bit as well and I’ve been desperately trying to stop. The F word is now becoming the norm and what scares me, (more than harming my brand) is when we no longer think that the F word is suitable and we opt for more power. C word anyone? Ugh.. that would be awful.

  4. Doug Daulton on September 21, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Hawk, this post is complete bullshit. 😉

    Seriously though, I think there is a middle ground here and I think you walk it very well. First impressions (particularly on the intertubes), are forever. Having a more professional “on-camera” presence is wise and does not lack “authenticity”. Rather, it shows that one is conscious of their message/brand and wants others to value it as well.

    However, this approach fails when there is no substance/skill to back it up. If all you have is a good public persona, then folks will see past it quickly and move on. And, if you have mad substance/skill, then you can swear like a sailor and people will look past it (for the most part).

    As you well know, I swear my ass off when amongst friends (and sometimes colleagues as well). One thing I’ve found is that swearing is, oddly enough, a fairly solid barometer of trust. When I stop thinking of whether or not I need to self-edit, I know I’ve come to trust that person (client, freelancer or partner) implicitly.

    It seems to work the other way as well. When, after showing prior restraint/decorum, someone starts swearing around me, it usually indicates that the relationship has come to a place where we trust one another and feel we can speak more freely.

    Great points by everyone else on this thread. Except for Shayne. That guy is an a-hole. 😉

    • shayne on September 21, 2011 at 6:42 pm

      Thanks. DICK.

      • Doug Daulton on September 29, 2011 at 1:29 pm

        LOL Shayne. 🙂 Could be worse. Could have called you Man Candy.

        • shayne on November 6, 2011 at 6:11 pm

          Ha Doug – just saw this…and yes, yes – it could be worse…let’s save that title for its one an only true owner 😉

  5. Justin Foell on September 21, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Todd only says you don’t swear that much because if you’re swearing like a sailor, he’s the ship’s captain :-p

    • Todd on September 21, 2011 at 7:54 pm

      I was so going to deny this and realized, who was I kidding, you’re probably right 🙂

  6. Betsy Richter on September 21, 2011 at 4:36 pm


    If your experience is anything like mine these days (I’m also the parent of two teenagers), swearing in front of them gives me *more* credibility/coolness. And I have to believe that revealing your human-ness to customers makes you more credible/authentic to them, most – if not all – of the time.

    I say – let it fly. For all of the reasons everyone else has already articulated.

  7. Jeff Hester on September 21, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    John, I see no “problem” with not swearing in a public or professional setting. I know there are some people who will claim it’s being inauthentic, but I disagree. You can be 100% true to who you are and still be considerate. When you’re with people who know you well and you don’t need to worry about offense, you can let your hair down (well, some of us can) and drop the occasional f*bomb or whatever expletive floats your boat.

    Incidentally, my kids are all grown now, but as they were going up we didn’t forbid swearing. We just had a rule that it better be the best damn word to choose for the situation when the DID use one. Sometimes there’s no other words that can more effectively express your emotion.

  8. Jeff Hester on September 21, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    Oh, and what’s with the fucking “Your comment is awaiting moderation” shit? Jeezus. Isn’t Akismet designed to catch the spammers. 😉

  9. John on September 21, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Thank you all for your comments! Here’s a bit of a response to each:

    @shayne / @shelby – You know I’ve always said, the people who are going to be offended by the tattoos (or Todd’s multi-colored hair) are probably people we don’t want to do business with anyway. I see swearing as ‘basically’ the same thing here as well.

    @ema – Exactly! In that setting, I’m perfectly comfy dropping some colorful language.

    @christine – I have to admin, the F word is one of my faves. But, if you really want to get somebody’s attention, nothing works like the C word. 🙂

    @doug / @jeff – Growing up, I didn’t swear in front of my parents until I was in my mid twenties. I don’t know that I EVER swore in front of my grand-parents. It was basically self-censoring. With our kids, we tried to keep it pretty clean as well. And, up until recently, my kids would actually self censor as well. And I mean they’d actually add their own BEEP noise in place of a word. Too funny!

    @betsy – I appreciated your comments at WordCamp (and here). I was writing this post in my head as we were having that discussion. I don’t know that I earn any street cred with my kids for swearing, but it’s awesome that you do. 🙂

    @justin – one of my favorite comments yet on my blog. Thanks!

    • Doug Daulton on September 29, 2011 at 1:33 pm

      @john – Kids change everything. I am actually MUCH more self-censoring with two kids under 4. I don’t mind swearing myself, but I’d just as soon not pass the habit onto my kids if I can help it.

  10. Jill on September 21, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Okay, as a person who generally doesn’t swear, and one with young kids (10 and 8) I say to them that swearing is a potential indicator of intelligence. If one is swearing it just means they are filling gaps with words that shouldn’t be used… they are place holders in conversations. Now, having said that (and probably getting a bunch of booing from the crowd here) it’s mainly because they are 8 and 10… I don’t want swearing to become a habitual thing (like it is with Uncle Stan… you know who I mean John… king of the F-Bomb!). Of course, being the age they are, swearing has a huge impact (they still think “shut up” is a “bad word”) and is the ultimate in disrespect and that leads me to your posting. I think if the only word you can find to describe a situation is a swear word, then use it, but please remember to be respectful of the person you are communicating with (my almost 90 year old grandma swears like a sailor but out of respect I wouldn’t swear in front of her). That’s my 2 cents… apply or discard as needed.

    • John on September 21, 2011 at 8:09 pm

      First off, HI JILL!!!

      I laughed out loud at “Uncle Stan”, classic. But yeah, ultimately I’m with you. Although, I may have to take offence to the intelligence indicator line. 😉

      If you’ve never seen it, check out the Spongebob episode called Sailor Mouth. Here’s a terrible version of it on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hO4D-PEcHz0 – but the cartoon cracks me up!

  11. Jill on September 21, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Aw shit, your comments turned my 8 year old into a smiley face with sunglasses… 8) (an 8 with a closed parentheses after it!).

  12. Nick on September 22, 2011 at 7:04 am


    We both know my stance on this, I swear probably more than you, and we both know work never really stopped me from doing that either.

    – Do you think it hurts somebody’s ‘personal brand’ if they swear (online / in public)?
    I think that the people I associate with both online and in public know exactly who and what I am. If they do not like it then they are welcome to fuck off.

    – Do you think a potential client would base a decision on it?
    Depending on the client, but most likely yes. If i’m doing work for the local surf shop here in WPB, then they probably don’t give a shit, if i’m putting something together for a local business that is a bit more “up-tight” then they may care more. This has always been an internal struggle for me, in the end I’ve always gone with the same, I am me deal with it or don’t, that is your choice. Has this hurt me from a business / client perspective, sometimes sure. Do I care?, not really.

    – Do you think somebody’s ‘personal brand’ extends to their company/job?
    Yes. I think to own a successful business, it has to have something of you in it, you must be passionate about your work in order for it to be successful, and to be passionate is to put you and your persona into it.

    – Do you think this is all a moot point thanks to the amount of tattoos I have?
    I’ve never understood judging someones capabilities, knowledge and or worthiness based on looks. I think the obvious answer is yes, many people / businesses will have a pre-determined conception of your business based on appearance. Once again I think you have to ask yourself, do you care? You surely have to do whats best for business, but when doing whats best for business directly conflicts with the person you are, you have have to make a determination, be happy and content with yourself and let your work and work environment reflect that, or bend who you are to accommodate. Personally, I don’t accommodate, I have found when you start to accommodate others you start to lose interest, drive and focus, which in my opinion are 3 things required to run a successful business.


  13. John on October 7, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    I’ll join with Jill and argue the side that much of the swearing that happens today is a potential indicator of intelligence. Not always, but far too often people throw in a swear word because their too lazy to actually find the right word. Not to mention the add-on swear words that have no meaning or value, but are just completely habitual. You know the guy who drops the F bomb every other word.

    I agree that the authentic discussion is important. If you know someone doesn’t really care for swearing does that influence whether you use it or not? Of course, your authentic self might be that you don’t care about the others around you and so you’ll let it rip regardless. Although, most people I know do care about those around them and that’s why they often refrain from swearing in public situations.

    When it comes down to whether I would do business with someone who swears or not, of course I would. Is there really any choice today? However, would I avoid doing business with someone who doesn’t care about those around them? Probably.

Leave a Comment