Monday, July 6, 2009

Language & Hypocrisy In Corporate America

How many of you have bosses that cuss like drunken sailors? Do they drop F-bombs in meetings and everywhere else? If you do, you are not alone - in fact, it is one of the most common taboo words in the English language. It is forbidden in newspapers, forbidden on network television & radio and forbidden by the vast majority of corporate HR policies (check for code words in your policy manual like "obscene" or "vulgar") And yet - most of us hear it spoken nearly every day in those same corporate workplaces.

Let's examine a few of the most respected public figures who have been caught using this troublesome & taboo term:Let's face it - if you aren't afraid your immortal soul will instantly go down in flames, you have probably thrown out an F-bomb at least once.

But in 2009 there are also employees at corporations across America that are being fired for writing an F-bomb in an email. That, boys and girls, is called hypocrisy.

It doesn't even have to be one of those scalding mass emails that the disgruntled Columbine kid sends to the entire company - it happens to employees that send "private" emails to each other. Of course, there is no such thing as a "private" email inside a corporation - many corporations can and do screen employee email boxes - and they can and do fire employees for the contents of the messages they send. (This is the subject of a whole 'nuther article that is yet to be written!)

Why? What is it about this word being used in an email that is so much worse than simply saying it out loud? Good grief, technology-based communication has become ubiquitous to an entire generation - and yet we still treat the spoken work differently than the written. I understand the difference between libel and slander, and the permanence of the written word, but given the rise of cell phone video & youtube, can you really be so sure that your spoken words aren't just as permanent as an email? Every one of those political and celebrity gaffs I listed were verbal - and after a short google search, they appear to be pretty darn permanent to me!

I admit that I have a real problem with hypocrisy. If a CEO wants to run their company by a set of strict family or religious rules - fine, go for it - but don't throw F-bombs during closed door meetings and then act outraged when an employee writes the same word in an email. In my opinion, that is MUCH worse than the choice of a particular word. Either live by the rules you make, or eliminate the rules.

When I write: "What a freakin' jerk", you know exactly what I really mean - in fact, I'm willing to bet a good majority of you subconsciously substituted the main star of this article for the placeholder word freakin'. If I write "What the fudge?", you also know what I meant. In fact, just writing "F-bomb" or "F--- You" provides exactly the same impact and mental image as using the actual unforgivable word. Some might say "Yeah - so why not just use a substitute?" My response is exactly the opposite: If it means exactly the same thing, why is the substitute OK and the taboo word is not? I'm sorry, but anyone who uses "freakin" or "fudge" or "flippin" as a polite substitute (as I have done throughout this diatribe) is a fraud and a hypocrite.

Words are symbols used to convey meaning within the context of their use. I will make the claim that there are no "bad" words, no more than there are bad numbers or letters. It is the intent and the use of the words that is important, not the words themselves. It has been stated that "the ultimate offensiveness of words is determined entirely by pragmatic variables such as speaker–listener relationship and social–physical setting, as well as the words used and tone of voice" (Jay & Janschewitz, 2007, 2008; Locher & Watts, 2005). There are abusive emails that contain absolutely no taboo words - and there are emails full of profanity that are not abusive. Corporations and society in general needs to take their blinders off and pull the plugs out of their ears - it's just a freakin' word!

No comments:

Post a Comment