Expletives (swearing, cursing, cussing) are in far more common use today, than they were in the past. "Official" media censorship and other imposed controls have been softened, or removed all together in some cultures making their use more familiar. In the UK, for example, terms which would have been frowned on a generation or so ago, such as "bloody," now do not receive as much as a raised eyebrow from most hearers.

But there are some terms which are still taboo to many, or at least unpleasant to hear for many. These are often sexually related or racially related terms; or religious expressions used as expletives.

How do you let a work colleague or casual acquaintance know you are uncomfortable with the "language" they are using without coming across as petty, or prudish?

  • 2
    Is this due to religious reasons or just personal preference? Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 9:06
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    I have left the question open a little, but the context is "personal." I would also appreciate the insight (if offered) on religious, cultural, or religious grounds as well though.
    – r m
    Commented Jul 1, 2017 at 9:13
  • We can't entertain questions that are this broad. Please edit the question to restrict it to a specific culture (country/religion) and group of people. How you convey this to family or friends may be different than to coworkers. We require questions to be about specific problems you actually face, not hypothetical general questions. This is the only way we can limit answers that would actually be useful to your problem.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 22:19
  • For reference, see: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/33/… and interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/6/… and interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/q/230/36 We have rules on this site that require questions to be narrowed down based on culture and rules that require questions to be problems you actually face.
    – Catija
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 23:20

4 Answers 4


This is a tricky question, and one I deal with every day. Cussing is in every second sentence with most of the people I work with currently, and for the rest, it's in every sentence. Here are several things I have found that can help.

1. Request (politely) that they cut out some of the cuss words.

I usually go something along the lines of:

Say, for personal reasons, I’m kind of uncomfortable with cussing and swearing. Would you mind just cutting down on the swearing when I’m around, please?

This can work, but bear in mind you have to approach the situation delicately, and if you know the person fairly well, you’ll be better able to tune timing and wording to yield positive results without estranging you from the acquaintance or colleague.

2. Set the example.

Where I work currently, it’s very well known that in the past 3 years I’ve worked there, I’ve never cussed once. I also try to stick out in the way I work: I’m constantly having people say that I’m one of the hardest workers they’ve ever met. My point is not that it’s true (I’m sure they’re just being nice); my point is, the goal should be to not just “fit in.”

While I strongly believe that I should make friends at work and get along well with everyone, if you want to influence people, you’ll have to be different. And what I’ve discovered is that when people see you’re different, you start influencing them.

I’ll never forget one co-worker, to whom I had never spoken about his cussing asking me some questions about various ways I’m different than my colleagues, and at the end of the conversation, he said, “[My name], I really have got to stop my cussing. I see it’s a nuisance to a lot of people, and I think it’s time to stop.”

Those are my two cents (which rounds down in Canada), but I hope they’ll help!

  • I think that's a good answer, and it also depends on the character of the person saying the expletives. When I was younger I got the impression that such language was an accurate reflection of a person's character, but it has almost no bearing on that what so ever. I probably swear more than anyone else on my team(or most teams!), but only began doing so after over a year of getting to know people and their sensibilities. If someone told me I was making them uncomfortable with my words, I wouldn't be offended in the slightest and would do my best to accommodate them. Commented Jul 3, 2017 at 17:58

I "sugar-coated the pill."

Early in my career, I remarked that "John Doe is a good guy, and he'd be a great guy if he would cut out the foul language."

He didn't quite do so, but he "moderated" his use of such language, at least around me.


It often feels really awkward to ask somebody a favour, especially when you don't know them very well, but once you summon the courage to do it, it's not really so hard

The key is to be polite and to explain why their language makes you feel uncomfortable.

Once you've gone through what to say once, it just doesn't seem so hard.

If you have clear reasons for asking, it's not at all petty or prudish.

I don't at all mind regular swearing, but I feel really uncomfortable when people use slurs.

This script got me a really positive response from somebody who I didn;t think would be so considerate.

Hey, you just used a slur.

I'm a person of colour, and I feel very uncomfortable when people use slurs around me because a lot of people who use that type of language are racist.

I know that you mean no offence, but it would make me feel so much safer if you tried, just when you're around me, not to use that language.

Thank you so much.


Often asking politely will bear fruit, especially if there's one or two people whose use of expletives is significantly higher than the norm in the environment.

Addressing the religious portion of the question, I had a coworker who would say "Jesus" or "Jesus Christ" for emphasis quite frequently. After one of the incidents, I turned to him and said:

That may not mean anything to you, but it does to me - I'd really appreciate it if you could find another exclamation.

Another variety I've used depending on the situation is to say something along the lines of (note that tone is important here):

I don't think you're praying; is there another word you could use there?

I suspect that requests to refrain from language that offends based on race, religion, culture, etc. are more likely to be acted on (compared to a request to generally refrain from crude language).

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