My first job in radio came at the expense of a man who, upon realizing he'd inadvertently caused several minutes of dead air, spat several juicy swear words into the control booth. More followed when he realized his microphone was still "live." Imagine the surprise of his listeners!
I was hired almost immediately.
I took the lesson to heart and, to prevent my own expulsion from the booth, began cultivating a taste for Yiddish words: guttural, marvelously expressive sounds so therapeutic to pronounce in moments of intensity, I wouldn't need profanity.
Words like umgeduldich (impossible) verblohndzet (crazy, all mixed up) that issue like steam from the back of the throat, hiss through the lips, then explode stealthily into conversation.
Very satisfying if you are venting about how much agita and tsuriss (pain and trouble) your schlumperdick pischk (big fat mouth) causes you.
Several subsequent years of living in New York City, where Yiddish is practically a second language, afforded me a larger Yiddish vocabulary; yet the daily grind of city life wore the edges off my prim English one. I paid for it, too: a series of dim-witted choices (including using one of my formerly verboten words in a conversation about a superior) caused me to lose a prestigious job.
Eventually - as in years later - I really did figure it out:
Even in an era when profanity seems as pervasive as oxygen, swearing at work is still not a good career move.
To begin with, it's presumptuous.
It's a bit like being invited to someone's home and choosing to light up a cigarette without asking, "Do you mind if I smoke?"
That's because, freedom of expression notwithstanding, using profanity, particularly on a regular basis, assumes that those with whom you work are comfortable with such language.
I admit that, just like those wonderful Yiddish syllables that cleanse the emotional palate as they rumble through the jowls, sometimes a highly profane word is the only one that will deliver when you are intensely emotional.
But are you really that emotional all the time? Constant swearing might give the impression that you are.
And if the perception is that you are perpetually disturbed, you might be missing out on opportunities to take on tasks your superiors, clients, and co-workers would prefer being handled by a person with a more level head.
What else about swearing? It makes you seem stupid. Literally.
With so many words to choose from in the English language alone, why rely upon such a puny quiver of invective? Those same superiors, clients, and co- workers might conclude that even if your problem is not chronic anger, perhaps it is that you do not have enough wit and creativity to find more mature, or at least clever, ways of expressing yourself.
Of course, it also helps to remember that adage, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."
Otherwise, people might think you're a real schmendrich!
• Whitney McKnight is a writer and communications consultant based in Marlton, N.J.