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"Every time our culture absorbs a word into common usage, people have to push the envelope even more," said Melissa Henson, director of grassroots advocacy and education at the Parents Television Council, a group that lobbies against profanity in media.
Ryanair’s O’Leary is well-known for his coarse language and blunt approach to running the Dublin-based discount airline - and the company has opted to give him fewer opportunities to display those tendencies of late, as part of a broader plan to improve the image of the airline.
O’Leary’s diatribes included railing against government policy, competitors and the weather.
"Michael has taken a step back from day to day PR duties as part of our evolving communications strategy," Robin Kiely, a spokesman, said in a statement. O’Leary himself, in an email response for this story, wrote: "How dare you call me salty when in fact I’m warm, cuddly, cute and caring, even if a little bit misunderstood at times. Lots of love."
At Emerson, the St. Louis-based maker of air-conditioner compressors and equipment for power plants, CEO Farr made his mark in the annals of conference call cursing with two particularly strong exchanges. One occurred in February 2013, when he told investors: "We are not a one-trick pony. If I see that in writing one more g--d--- time, I’m going to tear them apart. We are not a one-trick pony, we do well in China, g--d--- it, and I’m not embarrassed by it, but we’re not a g--d--- one trick pony. I apologize for swearing. You guys p--- me off when you write that, if you haven’t figured that out."
Farr is also one of the few CEOs who routinely apologized for cursing. Of the seven calls where he used expletives, he apologized four times. As a comparison, among the total 254 utterances recorded, there were only 22 apologies.
"Mr. Farr has always been an outspoken CEO in all his public forums," Mark Polzin, a spokesman, said in an email. "He realized he clearly crossed the line a couple years back. Consequently, he apologized to his investors, employees, and other attendees and has moved on."
The record for the most uses of one expletive among the data goes to Cypress Semiconductor Corp. Chief Financial Officer Brad Buss, whose retirement from the chipmaker was announced in April. Buss swore the S-word so many times, 28 in total, that analysts took to quoting it back to him in questions, often catching him unaware he had even used the term, according to transcripts.
Asked for comment, a spokesman for the San Jose, California-based company pointed to a statement from CEO T.J. Rodgers when Buss retired. It said, in part, "His contributions and ribald Canadian sense of humor will be sorely missed."
The only woman transcribed using the F-word was Carol Bartz in 2009, when the then-CEO of Yahoo Inc. talked about "nobody f---ing doing anything" to fix problems at the Web portal company. Bartz was ousted from Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo in September 2011.
Whatever the trend in conference call cursing, mainstream America isn’t toning down the language, according to Marchex Inc., a call analysis and marketing company in Seattle that provides software helping companies detect swearing on calls with customers. Profanity has risen each year since 2012, based on the analysis of 2 million calls, said John Busby, senior vice president of the Marchex Institute, which analyzes the data.
The S-word is the most common curse overheard in calls to businesses, followed by F and its variants, according to Marchex data, which the company collects to give marketers insight into the quality of interactions with customers.
One reason to keep the levels of profanity low in the workplace is that doing that will keep down other inappropriate behavior, said P.M. Forni, author of the book "Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct," who has been advocating for more politeness for 15 years. He decided to take on civility in society as a cause in 1997 after years teaching Italian literature.
The Civility Initiative that Forni founded at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore has spawned hundreds of imitators, he said. His goal is to try to balance the institutional informality of American society against plain rudeness.
He was sensitive in particular to the example of Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles because the city in 2009 declared May 13 "Los Angeles Civility Day." The mayor used the F-bomb in June while celebrating the Los Angeles Kings hockey team’s capture of the Stanley Cup.
Garcetti "was using the word as an intensifier, which is often what people do and they think it does no harm," Forni said. "But he does not realize that in many environments, that is still beyond the pale."
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