How to stop students from f***ing swearing in your class.

“When your brain fertilizer fails to rid of the weeds in your neurons, you swear them out. The more you swear, the more weeds you must have in your brain.”

–Phil Jones, Professor

Dropping the F-bomb

Alternatives for the ‘F-word’? Friggin’, Frickin’, ‘Freakin’,’Flippin’ ‘Fudge’, ‘Fiddlesticks’, ‘F’!

“Thanks for a great class sir…it was really f***ing interesting!” Yes, a student actually came up to me at the end of a class and said those exact words; all with the nonchalance of a siamese cat after it has scratched the crap out of one of your favourite chairs.

Throughout the years, I have heard ‘S’ bombs, ‘F’ bombs, and all the other ‘Consonant’ bombs spew out of the mouths of students while in the classroom. One student actually swore during his presentation, and unfortunately for him, an ‘F’ bomb meant an ‘F’ grade. So, why have swear words seem to have become so rampant these days, and how can you ‘nip it’ if you hear the profanity going on in your classroom? Let’s begin by looking at the history of swearing to understand how we got to this point.

Long before the TV reality show, ‘The Osbournes‘, with ‘Ozzy’ the rock star, the very first swear word that was uttered by a human, was that from a much older ‘rock’ star, ‘Oggy’ the cave man. He was quoted as grunting, “Holy Sh*t!” when he saw, for the very first time, a Tyrannosaurus Rex hurtling towards him. From there, other swear words, like the F-bomb, were invented and were often heard throughout history, mostly during the medieval times. With all that famine, disease, and war going on, who could really blame them?  But it really wasn’t until 1972 when some of the harsher swear words were formally recognized, thanks to George Carlin, when he explained the ‘Seven Dirty Words’ that can’t be used on TV (may offend some viewers). From that point on, everyone was saying the seven dirty words because they were telling all their friends about the seven dirty words! So there you have it; a brief history on swear words.

Who’s to blame for making swearing commonplace in society? Is popular culture and the media to blame? According to an article in ‘Scientific American‘, swear words have taken over Billboard’s Top 10 charts. TV network broadcasters are challenging the U.S. Federal Communications Commission(FCC) decency rules and fines because they want to be able to use profanity to compete with cable TV shows. Do you remember all the publicity about that potty mouthed ‘You & Me Interactive Play and Giggle Doll’? Take a listen, you can be the judge on that one.

In any case, this ‘No Swear Zone’ policy needs to work both ways if you are going to enforce it. I don’t think that, at any time, it is appropriate for a professor to swear in front of his/her class. I have seen situations while working in management, how employees lost respect for bosses or professionals that ‘cussed’ all the time. In fact, it can even cause a drop in employee morale, or worse, get the boss in hot water, as their language could be deemed as ‘sexual harassment’. It would be no different than if you used rampant profanity in the classroom.

If those reasons aren’t enough, swearing can distract from your message that you’re trying to communicate. Recently, I heard Tony Robbins during a TED talk drop the F-bomb (@ 11:44 into the talk if you want to save time). Here’s a guy that has made millions of dollars as a ‘motivational’ speaker, but when I heard that, it caught me off guard. Sure, he got some laughs, but I’m also sure it offended many in the audience. To be honest, it actually cheapened and overshadowed his message from that point on. I don’t ever recall hearing Steve Jobs drop an F-bomb during one of his Apple Keynotes, do you? After reading Jobs’ biography, I’m sure he used alot of profanity, but at least he kept it out of his public presentations. Even in the world of comedy, swearing isn’t always necessary. Take for example, professional stand-up comedians. If they’re naturally funny, many don’t resort to swearing to get a laugh. In fact, I think it shows more comedic talent when comedians don’t use swearing as a crutch for their jokes (Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Wright, and Jeremy Hotz, are proof of that).

So then, how do you minimize or stop students from swearing in class? Here are some quick and ‘dirty‘ tips:

– Tell the class, during the first class, that swearing is not acceptable in YOUR class, and that it will most likely offend someone, yourself included. Tell them that they are in an environment for learning; they’re not in a pool hall.

– If you hear someone swearing, directly say to them in an non-aggressive, nonchalant way, “don’t swear in class, ok?”

– If the issue is recurrent with a particular student, then take the student aside (and not in front of their peers), and again remind them of the reasons you don’t want them to swear.

– Set the example by not swearing yourself (even though I know sometimes you would like to!).

– Know the college policy on profanity in the classroom (maybe make sure there is one!).

– If a student swears inappropriately, just say, “Really?”

– If a student is wearing a sweater or t-shirt with profanity on it, tell them that it portrays a negative image to faculty about them, which in turn, will hinder them from getting a recommendation later on. Also, you can tell them that it really isn’t that ‘cool’ to be wearing it; high school is over. Maybe I was out of place, but I did exactly that when a student came into class with a huge ‘F-word’ on his t-shirt…yea, not impressed. After our chat, I didn’t see him wear it, at least not in my class, ever again. Just the other day, I saw a female student (thankfully, not one of mine) wearing a sweatshirt that read in big bold letters, “What the F*** are you looking at!?” Not much apparently.

– Mention that many companies prohibit the use of profane language in the workplace, so they may as well start practicing it now. It may avoid them getting into legal problems in the workplace later on.

The classroom environment is not the place for profanity. Tell students that they can swear all they want outside of the class. Yes, I get it that swearing is a part of everyday life, but there is something about it that lowers the standards inside the classroom. Have students raise their standards…don’t lower yours. By the way, do I swear? Friggin’ right I do.

So, do you have any good euphemisms for swear words?


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  1. Melvin Levendorf says:

    A friend of mine would break everyone up when he would pronounce “holy feces” instead of the usual s word. I still smile when I think of it.

  2. That’s a good one…it sounds like something Robin would have said to Batman, “Holy feces Batman!”
    Thanks for the comment Melvin.