Cuss like a sailor? Sure, unless wrong person is listening
October 20, 2007
“You can’t run an army without profanity; and it has to be eloquent profanity.… Sometimes I just, by God, get carried away with my own eloquence.”
— Gen. George Patton, according to “The Unknown Patton” by Charles M. Province, 1998.
You’ve heard the term “cuss like a sailor.”
It’s a well-deserved expression, say a couple of sailors who offered no misgivings about it.
“When you’re around your peers, you vent, you talk and everyone sees you vent and think ‘this guy is one of us,’” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Harold Bienaimer, a personnel specialist with more than seven years in the Navy. “It’s our way of expressing ourselves. And, yes, I think it does build camaraderie, so long as no one is offended.”
And that’s the crux: How to know when you’re crossing the line.
Yehuda Baruch, a professor of management at the University of East Anglia, and graduate Stuart Jenkins studied the use of profanity in the workplace. Their findings indicated that regular swearing at work can help boost team spirit among staff, allowing them to better express their feelings and develop social relationships, according to a university news release.
“Our study suggested that, in many cases, taboo language serves the needs of people for developing and maintaining solidarity, and as a mechanism to cope with stress,” Baruch said.
Doing it in front of supervisors, however, is a no-no, according to the military.
While the crime of using indecent language isn’t clearly defined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, usage could come under two articles: the sweeping Article 134, which covers behavior and actions that are against “good order and discipline in the armed forces [and] conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.” Article 117 covers it, too, governing use of provoking or reproachful words or gestures toward another.
In Navy circles, typically it’s incumbent on the person taking offense to the language to speak up, said Petty Officer 2nd Class Gary Bromm, a 34-year-old master-at-arms stationed at Naval Support Activity Naples, Italy.
“You’ve got a bunch of guys on a ship and you’ll say, ‘Hey, toss me that f-ing wrench.’ That’s how we talk. We feel free to speak the words that come to mind,” said Bromm, a former carpenter with five years’ service.
Both Bromm and Bienaimer added that their cursing is curtailed around women.
“Females are less likely to voice their opinion, or they might not say to you ‘that offends me,’ and instead say it to your boss,” Bromm said.
Some supervisors can use incidents as a learning tool.
Take Navy Capt. Floyd Hehe, now commanding officer at NSA Naples.
As the executive officer for the “Screwtops” of Carrier Airborne Command and Control Squadron (VAW) 123, Hehe had a habitual curser under his command “who constantly used the F-word. And when we had some VIPs in the ready room, he accidentally let a few of the F-bombs fly,” Hehe recalled.
“When the guests had departed, I asked him how he could use that word as both a noun and an adjective, as he had just done.
“He said ‘[expletive] XO, I can use it as any part of speech you need.’
“So I tasked him to write a paper on it, with examples, prior to the next port or his liberty would be secured. Of course, he did. I wish I had kept that paper.”
Funny as some antics might be, profanity has no place in today’s military, said Master Chief Gustavo Beltra, command master chief of Naval Support Activity Naples.
He’s not just being politically correct, he said.
“It might build team spirit, but in the short term. I think it’s a time bomb. And sooner or later, it could blow.”
Let’s say it’s accepted, and co-workers drop F-bombs all day long, he said. “Then one day, you’re in a bad mood, and language that’s been used for some time is all of a sudden offensive. … I think that just opens a can of worms. After that happens, how can you recalibrate?”