Slang at Work Doesn’t Work

Play nice with words at work An old Chinese proverb states that good words are like a string of pearls. Using slang and profanity in spoken and written communications can unintentionally create an emotionally charged atmosphere for colleagues and clients. 

In the United Kingdom, the elevating problem of slang in speech is beginning to be addressed within the school system.  Educators realized that the inability to speak articulately was disadvantageous to students as they transitioned from the classroom to the world of work.  When slang was banned from one school in Manchester, according to the BBC, exam results soared as a consequence. 

With the everyday use of slang in all media outlets and popular music, many may be desensitized to the offensiveness of their language to others.  While words do have the power to edify and promote an atmosphere of civility, they also have the power to destroy and demoralize. A few common slang phrases that might offend or be misinterpreted are:

  • "That sucks."
  • "She/he is so lame."
  • "This is so sick."
  • "He's such a brown-noser."
  • "That's so hot!"

According to a recent Reuters report, the list is long of jargon that commonly annoys workers.

Many people erroneously think that their profanity or usage of slang is not problematic.  While it may be rare for someone to publicly criticize another for bad language, this is not a sign of acceptance.  Word usage chosen by an individual creates an impression and neither slang nor profanities contribute to a positive one. 

Our world is one that thrives on negative news.  Our language has the ability to transcend the negativity that abounds.  Words matter.  We can use them carefully and thoughtfully for the benefit of others from all backgrounds and perspectives.


Donna Dilley is a business etiquette consultant based In Roanoke, Virginia.  She writes a business etiquette column for Valley Business FRONT.

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  1. As an assistant in graduate school many years ago the students were required to write essays for their exams. When I compare them with the essays I see students write today I am amazed at the difference. The ability to articulate and clarify with lanuage is deteriorating. Many would ask to to explain the last sentence I just typed.

  2. Holly,  thank you for your comments and for reading my post.

  3. Stacey Holloway says:

    A lot of times people get so used to certain sayings they don’t even think about what the sayings mean.
    I probably need to work on not saying some slang phrases as well, but I really think my boss could benefit from reading your blog! You would not believe how informal he can be when talking to sales people and vendors.

  4. Stacey, thank you so much for reading my post and commenting.  You are welcome to share this post with your co-workers and friends.


    Donna Dilley


  5. Good thoughts, Donna. I have my personal list of pet peeves, and at the top of the list is “my bad” and I can’t believe that it’s so commonly used even by adults. And I love the stat about rising test scores. I’d love to see that implemented in schools.

  6. Susan,  thank you for your thoughtful comments and for reading the post.


    Hope all is well with you yours!




  7. While I understand that some people are offended by slang, it’s also a little close-minded to assume everyone speaks the same.

    I also think that “proper” language all the time can be boring and, maybe it’s due to my age, but I have no desire to work in a place where I have to censor myself.

    This article is old-fashioned and in today’s workplace, where personal branding is HUGE, I’ve found that being myself (swearing like a sailor, using slang or otherwise) works wonders for my own brand.

  8. Marian, thank you for reading my post and sharing your thoughts.  In todays competitive job market,  it is important that everyone put their selves forward at work.   Speaking positively and articulately is one simple way

    to show consideration towards others and create a more civil workplace.   



  9. It depends on the topic and culture of the organization you are working for and the people that make up that culture…

  10. Thank you, Stuart for your thoughtful comment and reading the post. 

  11. Profanity at work doesn’t work for you! See my article at

    Beth Yvette Strange Image Consulting, LLC

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