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Professor Potty Mouth

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I don’t take the social networking tool very seriously. But I’m always shocked by how seriously other people take my Twitter account!

In a meeting a few weeks ago, the CEO of an established company asked me, “What are your strategies for attracting new followers?”

Well, I don’t really have a strategy. I just tweet whenever the mood strikes and I have access to a Twitter application. I tweet when I’m planning my classes, when I’m writing, when I’m reading, when I’m at the grocery store, when I’m on the bus, and sometimes when I’ve been drinking a little too much. I hardly censor myself.

And some other people don’t seem to like that. I’ve received direct messages from followers who have never even met me, suggesting that I “Stop tweeting right now! You’re embarrassing yourself.” One very bitter person told me that I am unfit to be a professor because I include curse words and “low” vocabulary like “dude” in my tweets. As a writer who uses “dude”, how could I ever expect to achieve any success?

I just have to laugh. If you think that maintaining a PG Twitter stream is a way to achieve or maintain professional success, you have a lot to learn. I’m less concerned about cursing/diction and more concerned about tweeting something ignorant, slanderous, or truly offensive.

I know that, when it counts, I do my job, and I do my job well. Formality is meant for academic essays, business e-mails, proposals, and press releases. Twitter does not require formality – I know that because something that wants to be taken seriously wouldn’t be named “Twitter”.

Also, I’m 25 years old. Sure, I am old enough to be a responsible adult, but I think my casual, sometimes naive, tweeting reinforces the fact that I do still have a lot to learn – and I never pretend otherwise.

For anyone who thinks that cursing taints my image as a professor, I just have to ask: have you ever taken a creative writing class? My absolute favorite professors – the ones who were always the most animated, passionate, and approachable – cursed like sailors.

I rarely curse in class – I said bullshit last week and felt weird about it – but my students use “bad” words in their writing. And they use the words intelligently. Some of the readings I assign include more profanity than I post on Twitter in a whole year.

Writing that contains profanity is not simply meant to have shock value. In fact, skilled writers usually do cursing so well that the readers hardly notices it – the curse words become part of the book’s normal, accepted vernacular.

If you’re telling people how they should behave on Twitter, then maybe it’s time for you to get off the computer and read something that’s meant to be taken seriously, like a book. But stay away from Ulysses, The Catcher in the Rye, and Slaughterhouse Five.

(Photo by meddygarnet)


  1. Two issues here. The first, the idea of keeping your twitter squeaky clean.

    I don’t do it. That’s not to say I look for ways to use profanity, but if I feel like it, I do. And yes, my Twitter is connected to my LinkedIn page, where allegedly potential employers could see it. (Though I haven’t seen evidence of that yet.) But if someone liked everything else about my ideas, my passions, and my personality, but opted not to offer me a job based solely on using a swear word sometimes, chances are I would eventually piss off such a manager even if I were hired anyway. This is what I am. And this is the reason I almost didn’t join Twitter in the first place…people dictating how to use it.

    Second issue: Profanity in writing. I think there is room for writing that both lacks it, and is filled with it. But as you said, its a matter of feeling natural. Sometimes it is abundantly clear that an author is trying extra hard NOT to swear, and it just sticks out like a sore thumb. (I read a suspsense novel where mobsters always shouted “What the crap?” Please.)

    But then there are those who just dump swearing in because they can and they think it makes them trendy. Dave Mamet for instance. He throws in “fuck” at basically random times, and then his fans luxuriate in the fact that his work generally contains “fuck” more often per page than any other writer in the world. But he often sounds fake too.

  2. Samuel Duval Samuel Duval

    What was that new word you taught me through the video link of Stephen Fry’s essay teach? (Or can I call you Larry?)
    That’s right, pedantic!
    People so full of their own academic achievements, or business mind set that they’ve jumped the preverbal creative train long ago. And good riddance as well! They can no longer judge things grass through the blinders of their own ill-recieved leaves. ( Walt Whitman pun added for extra-credit )
    Some of the greatest writers of all times allow their characters to live and breath and are normally just as surprised as the reader to the twist and turns that is creative fiction. To shackle this process in any way would be tragic! Vulgarity is a part of the human condition, as is spontaneity. Wether you choose to quell it or embellish it, should be up to the individual.
    Then again, if you weren’t getting your balls busted from time to time, or attacked by trolls, you’d be boring. So, fuck ’em!

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