Keeping Your Language Clean

Why the “F” Bomb Backfires As a Communication Tactic

It’s rare these days for Hollywood to turn out a movie without obscenities. Ditto for publishers to push a novel to the public without the same language strewn from page to page. Even TED speakers sometimes pepper their 18 minutes with trash talk.

If you’re talking about a real bomb, blowing up things can be good or bad. Demolition for the purpose of rebuilding on a site may be the fastest way to go. Exploding a bomb to destroy an enemy determined to annihilate you can be a good strategy.

But blowing up a talk by letting go the “F” bomb every few sentences destroys the speaker’s credibility as a communicator. Here’s why it backfires as a communication tool:

  1. It grabs attention—but for the wrong thing: Those who use obscenities when they speak before an audience often say they do so to “shock” an audience and grab their attention. But the chatter online and in the hallway afterward suggest that the attention falls not on the idea presented at that moment, but on the use of the obscenity.  The audience misses the very idea the speaker had hoped to highlight. 
  1. It focuses attention on the speaker’s limited vocabulary: Think back to elementary school when your teacher taught you not to keep repeating the same word over and over and over, but rather to add variety by choosing synonyms:  house, home, residence.  When a speaker cannot think of another way to express anger, dismay, disgust, or frustration and must continually resort to repeating, “What the F-,” that speaker has an extremely limited vocabulary. 
  1. It’s boring. After the shock value wears off, repeated use becomes boring.  Such repetitions become as irritating as other word fillers you often hear speakers use:  “Uh.”  “Okay?”  ”  “Right?”  “You follow me?” “You know what I mean?”  “Been there, done that.”

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Dianna Booher

Dianna Booher is the bestselling author of more than 46 books, published in 26 languages, with nearly 4 million copies sold. Her personal development topics include communication, leadership, personal presence, productivity, life balance, and faith. Her latest books include Creating Personal Presence: Look, Talk, Think, and Act Like a Leader and Communicate With Confidence, Revised and Expanded Edition. National media such as Good Morning America, USAToday, the Wall Street Journal, Investor’s Business Daily, Bloomberg,, CNN International, NPR, Success, and Entrepreneur have interviewed her for opinions on critical workplace communication issues. She is the founder of Booher Consultants, an international communication training company and more recently Booher Research. Clients include IBM, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, BP, Chevron, Pepsico, Frito Lay, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, JP Morgan Chase, American Airlines, and Department of the Navy.