Why I don’t swear on Twitter

by Tom Albrighton 3 July 2012 Digital and social, Tone of voice

  • Strong language.

Swear words are like any other words. It’s sometimes right to use them, but always wrong to overuse them. In that respect, the word ‘fuck’ is no different from the word ‘solution’.

If adjectives are the spice of language, curses are its monosodium glutamate. You can’t eat it every day, but sometimes it’s exactly what you want. In this connection, I always recall a tweet from @carrozo that unexpectedly included the highly offensive but hilarious portmanteau term ‘wanktard’. I still can’t read it without smiling.

What made that word funny was context and surprise (which I’ve written about before.) But when profanity is used excessively, it desensitises the reader and clutters up the text – just as any other linguistic excess would.

For example, if I fucking use the word ‘fucking’ in front of every fucking noun and verb, you feel like you’re being repeatedly slapped in the fucking face. I’ve strengthened my expression so much that you end up feeling overpowered. It is, quite literally, bad language.

Heavy words

French Connection aside, we’re still mercifully free of swearing in mainstream marketing; writers find more elegant ways to strengthen commercial messages. But social media is a very different story. Here, ‘heavy words are so lightly thrown’, and even the most prudish Twitter user won’t have to wait long for an eyeful of the hard stuff – whether posted by someone they follow, or RTd onto their timeline against their will.

I don’t swear on Twitter. That’s mainly because I use it as a combined work and social channel, which admittedly can be uncomfortable. I’m looking to the network for friendship and fun, but also for professional support and, yes, the chance to promote my content.

Unlike some, I’m there under my real name, my real face. In some cases, I’m talking one-on-one with the people who sign off my invoices. Salaried folk whose employers have a benign social policy have an extra layer of protection that freelancers don’t. When you’re so close to your paymasters, it’s surely natural to feel a little anxiety about your reputation, even if it is misplaced.

For some, no doubt, that’s still a compromise too far, or a craven submission to the system. For me, it’s more about being honest about all the masks I wear. While I may think a certain way all the time, I don’t necessarily let it show in all my actions. For example, I don’t greet strangers, colleagues or clients as if we’re old mates down the pub.

Though not remotely offended by strong language, I’ve been embarrassed by shirt-and-tie work colleagues who presumed, far too early, that our relationship was at the stage where they could swear in front of me. It wasn’t the words themselves that grated, but the crass, self-regarding arrogance they revealed.

I’m sure many would argue that Twitter is different – a place where we can be free from stifling social mores. Personally, I’m not so sure you can short-cut the process of getting to know someone, online or off.

Stinkin’ badges

Sometimes, it seems like the swears are there to give people’s Tweets some extra edge. But all too often, they add nothing – a prime example being the tweets of @Bored_Ghost, which are funny, but no funnier for their ritual profanity. At worst, the cuss words stand in for a more eloquent expression of anger or contempt that the author was unwilling – or unable – to write.

For others, swearing seems to be a badge of honesty, authenticity or fearlessness – an affirmation of the refusal to compromise. ‘If people are offended by swearing, I don’t want them as followers,’ is the implicit position.

I suppose that’s one way to filter your followers. But for me, the point of Twitter is the chance to interact with a diverse bunch of people. I’m not that interested in a student-bar-style love-in where we all loudly agree that David Cameron’s a cunt while surreptitiously eyeing each other for signs of approval.

Sure, I want a fair bit of ego-stroking from like-minded peers. But I also want Tories in my feed. Churchgoers. Maybe even one or two motorists who don’t indicate. I like to hear the views of those older and younger than myself. Basically, I want a mix, or what’s the point?

Now, it might not always be a comfortable mix. But, at the risk of sounding a bit pious, this is what being a liberal or (whisper it) a socialist is all about. It’s not enough to hate society’s rulers; you have to love society. All of society. And if you want to get along with people with other views, you’re going to have to ‘think all you speak, but speak not all you think’.

Choice not fear

Let’s say I meet your mum at the school fête. She’s not going to become my best friend – in fact, I’ll probably never even see her again. Immediately, I observe that the headmaster’s sweater makes him look like an absolute fuckwad. Even if she agrees with me, she’s going to be slightly taken aback; it might even spoil her day. At the same time, she’ll form an unbalanced impression of what I’m generally like. And those are two outcomes that I just don’t want to bring about.

I’m fairly sure that some of my followers would be offended if I swore on Twitter as much as I do with my friends, which is why I don’t do it. I’m not afraid of causing offence, I choose not to – an important distinction.

Twitter has happened relatively late in my life. If I was younger, I’m sure I’d give far less of a bollocks about the language on there – mine, and other people’s. But age brings different perspectives. These days, I’m much more aware that, in Philip Larkin’s words:

…we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

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