Working Blue

‘I’ve never cursed at Anucha,” Isiah Thomas testified last week. “I’ve cursed around Anucha.” The Knicks coach and president was on the stand in a wrongful-termination suit brought against him and Madison Square Garden, which owns the team, by Anucha Browne Sanders, a former marketing exec whom Garden owner James Dolan has admitted he fired after she complained about being called “bitch” and “fucking ho” by the coach. It’s all raising the question, what the heck is acceptable workplace language these days?

“Revolting profanity doesn’t have any place in the office,” says Peter Post, a director at the Emily Post Institute (and great-grandson of the priestess of politesse herself). “But occasional swearing? That’s no big deal if the culture of the workplace permits it.” The culture of the Garden (none of the bosses seemed troubled when Stephon Marbury had sex with an intern in a truck outside a strip club) would seem to be profanity-friendly. And it’s not the only one. Office cursing is so prevalent that pollsters haven’t even bothered to ask about it since 2002, when Public Agenda found that 44 percent of Americans hear foul language “often” in our daily lives. A 2004 British survey found that 76 percent of Brits swore regularly at work.

Workplace profanity is everywhere, starting with our elected leaders, like Eliot (“I’m a fucking steamroller!”) Spitzer and Dick (“Go fuck yourself!”) Cheney, and continuing to our unelected moral arbiters, like Golden Globe–winning Bono (“fucking brilliant”). In Fresno, California, former deputy mayor Roger Montero resigned in April after admitting that he used “coarse language” on the job but denying that his language constituted sexual harassment. And a Virginia dentist, Steven Afsahi, was fined $9,000 in 2004 by that state’s Board of Dentistry in part for using profanity in front of patients.

Timothy Jay, professor of psychology at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and author of Why We Curse and Cursing in America, suggests that asking us to stifle swearing is not only unreasonable but also a violation of our basic rights. “As long as it’s not excessive, a worker has the right to express their emotions through swearing in the workplace,” he says. “And while phrases like ‘you fucking ho are way past the acceptable boundary, we should keep in mind that this is the sports industry, where this kind of shit happens all day long.” Any chance, then, that Thomas will clean up his language posttrial? Our guess: No fucking way.

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