Swearing in speeches: When, and why?

The question used to be asked, “If you say ‘shit’ in front of a lady, what do you say when you blow a tire on the Brooklyn bridge?'” (See the correct answer, at bottom.)

We’ve come a long way, ladies. The other day, Sally Field dropped a noisy f-bomb in her speech at the annual meeting of the Human Rights Campaign. You can watch the whole speech about her experience with her gay son—or you can get enough of the context by starting at the 6:00 mark. Does the obscenity serve the strategy?

While Field curses to bring her speech to a crescendo, another woman I know—a seminar leader—swears one time, very early in her presentation, to express to the audience that she’s going to keep it real. Then she never does it again.

Speechwriters, have you ever written a curse word into a script? If so, how and when—and to what effect?

(Answer: You say “shit” then, too.) —DM

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