Cursing Explodes with Crisis

Shit! God Damn it! Fuck Asshole! In that order, please, from most favorite at the top. Most of us probably out there in the real world won’t be too surprised that those are the three favorite words that come out of everyone’s mouths when they need to let off steam somehow. It’s better and safer than punching the wall of the board room and getting yourself a fine. But, it can still cost and sometimes it can cost you a lot. A new study has revealed that cursing goes up proportionally as the crisis sets in and that means CEOs have been cursing their way to the top any which way they can for over five years now.

Bloomberg carried out a study and it has just been published. It covers conference calls from 2004 to 2014 and it analyzes how American CEOs speak and what words they use. By looking at the graph you will see that 2010 was the height of cursing for those at the top. Apparently the cursing has now waned since that peak year and the ‘economy is getting better’ (according to Bloomberg). Or rather, those companies that were analyzed are doing better because they are being kept alive and afloat by the buoyancy of the Federal Reserve and the loose money that they have had all these years. It would hardly seem that the economy is doing any better in general terms. But, they might be cutting back on their swearing because the flow of money has continued into the financial markets thanks to quantitative easing.

In the conference calls that were analyzed by Bloomberg, the overriding favorite word was ‘shit’, being used 197 times over that period. Next came ‘God damn it!’, used 34 times, followed by ‘Fuck!’ (17 times) and there were 6 ‘assholes’ that will go down somewhere in history.

Apparently, it was James Hagedorn, Chairman and CEO of Scotts Miracle-Gro (Ohio) that came out tops in the league table with 16 ‘shits’, and 3 ‘fucks’ plus 1 ‘god damn it’ in 10 years, making a total of 20. Hardly a lot by anyone’s daily standards and a lot of us could probably do better than that.

It’s a little bit like the study that was published in 2012 which showed the closer we got to the financial crisis the more the people at the Fed were telling jokes and laughing at the Fed meetings than actually doing anything else. According to the reports published with the transcripts of conversations, laughter was more common as things got more worrying. Take a look at the graph below and see for yourself. The closer the crisis the more they laughed. Was that nervous laughter or was that because they were blind as to what was coming? Just one example is the August 8th 2006 meeting in which the following was said: “As the comments indicate, this is probably the most challenging time that we have had before us in my long history at the FOMC [laughter]”. Still how many of us will be surprised to see that board meetings are for doing anything but work. We all know that things are decided before the meeting actually takes place. The table is just there for show, that’s all, isn’t it? But, laughter doesn’t beat cursing, does it?

Whether you choose scatology, profanity and blasphemy or downright straight-forward sexual references it’s a taboo word in society. Usually, taboo words are watered down in public and replaced by something that everyone gets but you don’t need to say. It’s only when you are feeling right at home that you let rip with what you want. Perhaps the study doesn’t so much reveal that the CEOs are under pressure and have been since 2008, but more that they are now fully at home in their environment and so they can say and do just as they like. Well, almost. Cursing is like honking the horn of your car. It lets you express yourself, whether that be happiness or downright anger and frustration.

Just take a moment and look around the office. Who’s at the top of your office league table?