Swearing, Euphemisms and Writing Something That Actually Sounds Like You

Swearing in advertising

At the end of my Copyblogger post a week or two ago, I used the Copyhackers tagline in my byline:

Where startups & marketers learn to convert like mofos.

The very first comment on that post was from a well-known copywriter named Bob Bly. Here’s what he had to say:

Bob Bly comment on Joanna Wiebe Copy Hackers Copyblogger post

Once I stopped smiling at having been lumped in with “young people”, and once I confirmed with my mom that I am indeed cool, it occurred to me that some people are legitimately offended by euphemisms and ‘impolite’ colloquialisms.

I mean, my mother-effing post was over 3000 words long, and it cited more than 10 studies. It’s kinda epic. But the best Bob could say about it – and I encourage you to check out the comments ‘cos, even after sleeping on it, he’s still mad as hell – was that my impolite language had offended him.

Which begged the question…

Do We Have to Write to Please Everyone?

The insta-answer to that question, for this copywriter, was and is HELLZ NO!

I always recommend that you write for the 20 to 35% of your visitors that are most likely to a) convert and b) be happier for it. I recommend that because I’ve tested it and it works. It’s not just an assumption I randomly pulled out of the air and tried once; it’s not like I applied a go-narrow principle to my business and my business alone and found that it prettymuch worked, so now I think everyone should do the same for similar results.

You should write for a slice of your visitor pie because it works better than writing for the whole pie. It’s helped me sell a shit-ton of software… to say nothing of courses, and, yes, ebooks.

Effective conversion copy doesn’t ‘please’ every visitor to your site. 

(BTW, your audience is not everyone. So why would you try to please everyone?)

My clients and readers see great wins by focusing on The 20 to 35%For example, this summer I got a 16% lift on the Crazy Egg home page. That may not sound like much, but bear in mind that the Crazy Egg home page had been tested like a… well, like a mofo. And it’d been tested by some of the most trustworthy names in conversion rate optimization – including the team at Conversion Rate Experts. (Remember this?) We weren’t sure we’d be able to beat their incredible control – but we did!

One of the biggest changes we made was this: we stopped speaking to a broad range of unnamed businesses and startups – and we instead focused every message on marketers, designers and agencies. Here’s a message we put big ‘n’ bold above the fold:

Narrow your message

Is that a message that speaks to everyone?

Nope. Intentionally not.

But if you’re a digital marketer, a UX designer, a UI designer, a web manager, a web analyst or someone else from an agency or consultancy, it speaks 100% to you. And it should come as little surprise that we selected those 4 bullets based on research. I’ll be writing more about this super-interesting test soon. But for now, here’s the thing…

Every Startup, Copywriter & Content Marketer Has to Decide: Who Will I Pander To?

When hosting the Golden Globes, Ricky Gervais famously offended almost all of Hollywood. He explained his reasoning for telling jokes that aggravated many a celebrity and made the rest of us laugh our butts off:

“Do I pander to the 200 egos in the room,
or the 200 million people watching at home?”
– Ricky Gervais

His audience wasn’t in the room, much to the actors’ surprise. His audience was at home, watching overpaid celebrities celebrate their awesomeness.

Now, among the 200 million watching from home, a lot of people were pissed off. (Others – like yours truly – were finally entertained by what could’ve been another lame awards show.) But this is the important note: those offended people weren’t Gervais’s audience; they may have been the Golden Globes’s audience, but they were not his.

Which leads me to a question for you:

Should he have adapted his style of jokes to suit the forum…

Should I have adapted my language to suit the Copyblogger forum…

…Even if only a small percentage of said forum might be offended?

The Research Behind Swearing: It Bonds Us

Books have been written on the subject of profanity. Studies have been done. Academics have narrowed types of curses into categories, like Trudgill and Anderson (1990) did here:

Expletive: Expresses one’s emotions

Abusive: Meant to harm the recipient / listeners

Humorous: Like abusive swearing but with no harm intended

Auxiliary: A way of speaking

Ljung (1986) found that swearing suggests such qualities as independence and naturalness, which create a sense of covert prestige. And studies aligning swearing and laughter – both of which are involved in shaping or not shaping relationships – have found this: swearing can promote group solidarity, strengthen group bonds and exclude non-members / better include members.

Swearing, like laughter, causes a reaction in people. People like to react; we like to feel. Popular commercials that border on swearing tap into these feelings, like this one does:

So if swearing can bond us… And if it can generate feelings similar to those created by laughter… Should we still avoid it in our marketing lest we offend 1 in 100?

If Your Audience Is Cool with Swearing,
Should You Do It?

To be clear, the word “mofo” – which comes from “motherf***er” – doesn’t qualify as a swearword to this Canadian gal.

Maybe it does to others.

But it doesn’t to me. No, I don’t want to hear my nieces and nephews use it – but I’m not writing a blog for kids under 12. I’m writing a blog for startups, and I know thanks to surveys and cool MailChimp plugins that my audience is comprised largely of:

25 to 50 year-old men

30 to 45 year-old women

No kids in the mix. And remarkably few Baby Boomers.

Most of my readers are solopreneurs, bootstrapped startups, marketers or members of a web team at an agency, rapidly growing startup or Fortune 500. These are the people who buy my ebooks and take my courses; these are the people who comment on this very blog. These are the members of my audience. I write for them – I write for you.

I write phrases that I hope will stick with you. And I write them using the sort of style and tone that is not only true to me but also true to you. To see what I mean, do a quick content analysis of this email from a reader named Billy:

I don’t know what platform you are using to host the course, but Moodle is what I use to teach my courses and to build courses for my clients. It’s FUCKING awesome. Mostly, because it’s free, open source, and over 70,000 schools use it, it’s kind of a low key rising star. In summary it’s tight because it allows full on tracking of your student’s and the entire learning process is automated. Drag, Drop, Shazam you’re done.

N e wayz just like CRO is a science, so is making videos to sell sh*t….. here’s my magical hot sauce: Enjoy.

In addition to using the F word in ALL CAPS SHOUTING, Billy uses words like “tight” and “shazam”. This is not polite language. And I’m as cool with it as Billy is. Do I exactly match the sort of language Billy uses when I’m writing copy and content for Copyhackers? Hellz no! It’s about finding the balance: what’s right for the 20 to 35%… and what’s right for you, the voice behind the copy.

Let an F-Bomb Drop If It If It Will Improve the Message for Your Audience

Among your top priorities when writing copy and laying it out on a page is getting eyeballs on that message.

From there, it’s about creating a message that resonates with YOUR audience now and will be remembered later.

As much as I may be risking turning people off with a tagline that uses the word “mofo”, that’s a risk I’m willing to take to create a sticky, memorable message. After all, who doesn’t want people to tweet about their tagline?

You Don’t Need to Use the F Word, Though

Swearing in copywritingThe F word is a favorite among many. There are 100s of words – new ones being made up all the time – that might offend the Baby Boomer generation but work really nicely in your copy for your non-Boomer audience.

(And, BTW, I don’t think everyone over 55 has a stick up their butt about swearing and euphemisms. Not at all! Making assumptions based on ages is pretty uncool; I’m only mentioning it because it was the core of the argument against my use of “mofo”.)

I don’t like to write the F-word or sh** (except once above – tee hee) because they’re a little harsh for me to see on the page. But there are a variety of euphemisms that could easily color your copy without crossing any real lines:










Scheiße (said colloquially as “shy-za”)

Yes, I just made a list of tolerable bad words. That really just happened.

Each one of those words might work in your office. They might work among your friends. But, without question, you are taking a risk when you use that kind of language. So, for starters, test to be sure. And remember that you’re running your business… and edits can always be made. It’s your copy. It’s your voice. Be as scrappy and out-standing as you’d like to be.

With regard to risk, you’re also taking a risk when you absolutely avoid euphemisms and impolite words in your copy. What risk is that? Simply the risk that you’ll wind up saying nothing remotely memorable whatsoever. And you’d better have one helluva product if you’re cool with people forgetting your message.


More about swearing in this awesome Salon article

About the author

Joanna Wiebe

Joanna Wiebe - Copywriter and author of "Copyhackers"

  • soniasimone

    I find it kind of fascinating that this conversation is still happening. Podcasting about it for next week — I think it’s an interesting topic, and I like your take on it a lot.

  • Ken Wilkinson Jr.

    Bottom line: you gotta do you. If your personality and style don’t mesh with your audience, you have a bigger problem than your potty mouth… You awesome mofo you.

  • Important: Follow this link, scroll down to Bob Bly’s comments, laugh hysterically.

    • Nathan Sheusi


  • Eff yeah! You tell ’em Joanna!

  • michaeltroy

    I really like this.

    I’m a long time reader and this is the first time I’m commenting. A lot of your thinking around copy and writing really resonates with me. Write like you speak. No fluff. Keep it real.

    If fact this blog is only one of a few that have inspired me to start writing. I hope to continue writing and improve over time. Picking up tips along the way from writers like yourself.


  • Konrad Sanders

    This is good shit. I’m totally on team Joanna.

    Better to stand out with uniquely-branded content – and alienate some – rather than try to please everyone, and get washed up in forgettable mediocrity.

    Not saying that it can’t be done without dropping the f-bomb; but your brazen use of ‘impolite’ colloquialisms makes you stick out more than a whole heap of other edgy copywriters and content marketers. I’m sure your target audience respect and remember you more for it (I certainly do).

    Have you ever read the ‘Thug Kitchen’ blog?

    It’s filled with all kinds of profanities, but is absolutely hilarious, completely unique, and enjoyed by millions. A perfect example of a truly unique, daring and perhaps offensive voice – which gets results. Google it.

    PS. You effing nailed it with this badass post. Good job 🙂

  • MTBkelly

    I read that back and forth with Bob at the time. Personally, you had me at “mofo”.

  • bobbly

    If you think you risk saying nothing memorable because you cannot use the f-word, your writing skills are not up to par — period.

  • Writing style is a form of positioning. It communicates who you are, who you’re addressing yourself to, and in a way, it may communicate to those who don’t fit your audience that you’re very much *not* intending to reach them. The writing style in Copyhackers will appeal mainly to a non corporate audience – young startup founders who don’t have a marketing budget and who assiduously and steadfastly do not wish to pay for a professional copywriter or content person (because, er, when you get past the defensive reactions, they really *can’t* pay). You’re bonding with those folks with the breezy “mofos”, “peeps” and “K” wording. At the same time you’re probably alienating anyone over the age of 45, witness Bob Bly’s comments. To sell to someone with a marketing budget in the 10s or 100s of thousands in the corporate world you really would want to strike more of a balance, but that’s not the territory that Copyhackers explores. It’s all what you want to do with your blog and your content. IMO it’s crucial to know why you’d write in a certain style for a certain audience.

    I’m in my 50s. Mofos is truly lightweight cartoon swearing, in my book. I’d use a word like it selectively to communicate to a more casual audience. The entire package – the cultural assumptions – is what is really most important.

  • It’s about who your audience is but also what kind of presence you want to create. I’ve had my moments in real life when I’ve been known to swear like a drunken sailor with Tourette’s (talk about a politically incorrect sentence right there.) Not my finer moments but it’s real. I keep to the swearing or offensive language to a minimum in my writing. I too am not a fan as to how it looks on the page.

    Yet, I’m not beyond pushing the envelope even if swearing isn’t involved. And, rest assured that you don’t need to pull out the f-bomb to rile people up. In a social commentary piece I wrote a few years ago I discussed the whole notion of over sharing online and used a prominent female blogger’s in depth analysis of her mucus plug as an example. Let’s just say I was afraid I might get bludgeoned to death by a band of post natal women chasing me with torches and organic kale. You would have thought I had defiled the Pope or worse, Oprah.

    Long story short, you’re not alone. You can’t please everyone, nor should you want to. It doesn’t work with a business and it sure as hell doesn’t work as a writer. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will piss some people off. That’s okay just as long as I can still look at myself in the mirror in the morning.

  • Everyone is getting so repressed by political correctness and do gooders. Let it fly Joanna. I find your posts highly entertaining and informative and once I start I just can’t stop. You are spot on with your approach of not submitting to the masses. It is good old Pareto at work. Focus on the 20% that gets you the 80% results. Well done.

  • Guest


    Love love LOVE this.

    I often use slight slang and very conversational talk for the very reason that you mention. Being memorable and standing out is where it’s at. Write the same as the rest of the marketing world? Bore the tits of everyone? Or worse, conform to the masses? Helz no!

    Keep marketing like a mofo!

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Yeah, I think most of us are using slang. As Brian Clark pointed out, the word “mofo” isn’t actually a swearword; it’s a euphemism. Slang, euphemisms, conversational shizzle – it’s the natural language stuff that makes copy great.

  • “There Are No Dirty Words; Only Dirty People” Dr. Richard Bandler – Co-Creator of Neuro Linguistic Programming and personal improvement authority

    I absolutely LOVE this post Joanne!!! and I’m one of the 20-35% who fully appreciate where you’re coming from and I’ve written about it before. In what I wrote, I brought up the question of . . .

    Why Would A Prominent, Do-Gooder, Public Figure Like Tony Robbins Use The Word “Fuck” During His Seminars?

    If you’re a Tony Robbins fan you know he’s gotten past any kind of shame of using cuss words to bring out the real juice behind what someone is feeling so that they can break through the bullshit story they’re telling themselves and move on towards their own personal success.

    David Deida is the same way but his sole focus is on masculine and feminine relationships.

    These two guys’ message are two of the most loving messages I’ve ever experienced.

    My personal belief is that their message is more loving than the bible’s because they don’t tell you you’re going to hell for not believing in what they say. They actually tell you NOT to
    believe them and to step into the common sense part of your mind, see if it checks out there, and then . . . go test what they teach in the real world, make the world a better place to live or not and judge the results for yourself.

    No blind faith required. Try before you buy.

    Both of these guys use words like pussy, fuck, fucking, shit, any other word they can to help someone get out of their funk. And EVERY TIME they use those words, you get the sense that it’s coming from a loving place. Never without purpose, never with malice, never with
    disrespect to anyone – man or woman.

    This is what I strive for in being a man free from the political correctness police who want to tell me what is right for me and how I should express myself.

    One of my favorite resources on how to be less of butt hurt little baby is Wayne Dyer’s “Pulling Your Own Strings” audio program. In it he talks about all the ways people try to guilt you into being more like them – telling you the language you should be using is but one of them. I highly recommend that anyone who’s having trouble standing up for what they believe in, to go get this highly effective, highly affordable, highly entertaining, and highly enlightening audio program.

    And thank you again Joanne for not cheapening your unique voice by letting “authorities” pull your strings! 🙂

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Genius, Lewis, genius – and not just ‘cos you agree with me. 🙂 Excellent support for your / this post’s point. Bandler, Robbins, Deida and Dyer all in one comment! Fantastic.

      …I can’t believe the p-word is on my blog. Yikes! hahahahaha

      Re: going to hell – (easily the best “re:” ever) – I don’t think it’s the Bible that tells people they’re going to hell so much as it’s the church and, in particular, certain churchgoers who, as Dyer discusses and as you noted, try to guilt everyone into the safety of sameness. (When I feel judged by such peeps, I like to remember the company Jesus kept and his first miracle.) I doubt that God wants blind faith out of each of us; I mean, why go to the effort of giving us thinking minds and letting us roam at will if not to let us ask questions; after all, if you knew you were right – you knew you existed and you knew you loved – you’d say, “Don’t believe me? Go ahead! Go look. Go try to find a different answer. I’ll wait here.” I think that’s God’s perspective. …That’s a tangent, but, fuck it: it’s my blog. I can say what I want. LOL!!

      • Geez, I didn’t realize how many names I’d dropped until you’d clumped them in all together! Hahaha

        Yeah, I fully agree, from what I understand of it, that Jesus’ message is one of pure love. I’m far from an authority on the bible so when I’m thinking about it in this context, I’m thinking purely of the preachers who back up their damnations with scriptures from it. And we all know that more than a few people have been guilty of quoting others and books out of context to meet the model of the world that they feel everyone should subscribe to.

        I’m also on board with what you believe about trusting that you’re right and not trying to force what you believe onto anyone else. It reminds me of what Wayne Dyer says is the root of all arguments which is, “If you could only be more like me . . . then we could get along and be happy.”

        Thank you Joanna for saying whatever the fuck you want here. I know and you know you’re doing the world a favor by doing so. 🙂

      • The reality is that our concept of hell derives largely from the New Testament teachings of Jesus. He does love (John 3:16 comes to mind) but he also speaks of a humanity deserving of God’s just judgment. That’s why he paid the penalty for sin, so those who trust in him can inherit eternal life. I commend the Gospel of John for your perusal, it’s fantastic!

        Now that I’ve strayed pretty far from the topic at hand, I’ll just say that I prefer to remain polite. Swearing does presume on the indulgence of some readers, and I prefer not to narrow down my audience that way. However, I can’t deny there is something natural about some cussing, and I appreciate the authenticity here. I remain a reader. 🙂 Thanks Joanna!

  • Mark @ Make Them Click

    As Billy Connolly said: “I know my swearing offends a lot of people, but you have to admit I do it so well.”

    It’s all about context.

    Also have a read of Drayton Bird’s blog. He’s one of the original Mad Men, and recognized as one of the greatest copywriters of our time.

    And boy does he tell some blue tales.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      One of the best pieces of advice I’ve had in my entire life was from a prominent lawyer in Edmonton. I was about to go into law school, and his words of advice to me went like this: “Don’t take yourself too seriously.” That’s stuck with me since. And it’s the reason people like Drayton become legends. It’s the reason I spent most of my gaijin time in Japan with Australians, Irish lads and New Zealanders. When you don’t take yourself so seriously, everything gets easier: communicating, dealing with rejection, and most definitely growing a startup.

      • Mark @ Make Them Click

        Speaking of Australians and scatological language, check this out, saw this last night and made me laugh, very subtle joke half way thru. Did she really say that on TV?

        It’s for Cabot’s Aquadeck

      • Joanna Wiebe

        ha! That’s classy. 🙂

  • Frank C. Siraguso

    Btw, the Kmart (or Kmark, as one guy I know used to call it) copy is lame and corny. But not as bad as Hardee’s commercial about their great buns. Minghia, these guys.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      I freakin’ love the Kmart commercial, Frank! It’s hilarious. I only wish I knew the Hardee’s commercial.

  • Frank C. Siraguso

    At least Bly didn’t say “you people.” Jesus fucking Christ! Lighten the hell up!

  • As a baby boomer, I suppose anything I might add to this discussion will be dismissed as irrelevancies from an old fart. (Hmm. Is old fart offensive?)

    But I make a distinction between offensive and annoying. The truth is, Joanna, that I read your stuff in spite of a lot of language you use that has nothing to do with profanity. Take “peeps” or “K” (as the shortened form of OK). I can really do without them. (I believe my 16-year-old daughter stopped using K at least a year ago.) And at the end of the day they annoy me about as much as your using “shit-ton” in your copy above.

    Of course, if your regulars eat it up whatever complaints I might have about it are, as I said, mere irrelevancies The advertising business, in its need to be relentlessly hip, will, I suppose, always rely on desperate new stratagems to hold a prospect’s attention — and it appears that shocking language is the stratagem du jour. And yet I can’t think about this issue without thinking of Jerry Seinfeld. As you may know, Seinfeld *never* works blue. I don’t think it’s a moral issue for him … it’s an I-must-at-all-costs-avoid-the-easy-laugh issue because for him working blue is a form of comic cheating.

    On the other hand, the other day I saw an ad in The New York Times Magazine by a company called Big Ass Fans. Yep, I was annoyed. Down the road, should I ever need a big ass fan for my living room, I’m not going to be tempted to buy one of their colorfully named products unless it’s heartily recommended by someone I trust.

    Which is a longwinded way of saying that profanity has its place in my life — my wife and daughter are often loudly dismayed by my enthusiasms for it — but not where commerce is concerned. To me, commerce is all about credibility, and profanity seems to me rarely to enhance it.

    My view from the Baby Boomer cheap seats.

    • Lance Jones

      You’re only as old as you act. 🙂

      For what it’s worth, I am a gen-x’er, and I appreciate that nobody here is trying to convince others to change their personal style or belief system.

      As far as age goes, I think Bob Bly’s point is a red herring. My grandfather swore a lot, and my friends’ parents (now in their 60s) also swear. It’s not really an age thing at all.

      Middle-aged truckers swear a lot, too. So is it a “class thing”, then, Bob Bly? Are you saying that only classless people use profanity? Wrong again (on so many levels).

      Or maybe Bob’s saying that using profanity is not appropriate only in the written word… but even there, has he read many literary classics?

      I use profanity selectively in my personal life and in my professional life. The one question I ask before letting any s- or f-bombs fly is, “Does using this word hurt my credibility with the people I am trying to convince/persuade/teach/etc.?”

      If not, then I let ‘er rip — albeit sparingly — because (in my opinion) being too casual with certain words eliminates their intended effect.

      MindTheRant, you’re saying that commerce is your litmus test for the use of profanity. It’s certainly possible that from a purely transactional point of view, you could be spot on.

      However, Joanna’s use of these terms is focused primarily on her communications to people with whom she is developing a relationship… via newsletters and blog posts. The way she writes is the way she speaks, and by reading her words, people get a clear sense for who she is as a person, rather than as a seller of e-books.

      She, like me, is probably okay with offending a few in order to be authentic and say what she feels.

  • Joanna,

    While not necessarily being a “swear” word. Have you seen the Duluth Trading commercial for their “ballroom” jeans? I probably lean more toward the prude side of the aisle…but that commercial cracks me up (my wife too) every time it airs.

    I gave in and we now categorize our belts as Badass belts…’cause we were getting feedback from our clients, and that’s what they were calling our merch.

    Our new messenger is called the Helluva Messenger Bag (cheap plug, i know)

    I guess I can say that they started it.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post.

    Robert Porter
    Vvego International

    • Joanna Wiebe

      I just Googled that commercial ( – awesome! Clever “ballroom” name – LOL!

      Love your names! I mean, if they work for your audience and they feel right to you, why not have a Badass Belt and a Helluva Messenger Bag? Smexy Boots? Bitchin’ Wallets? 🙂

  • LOL …why am I not surprised that dear old Bob Bly had that reaction! I have to be a bit careful with pottymouth words on my site because my audience is predominantly middle-aged and not quite what you’d call hip, although they all love my humorous articles. I do make use of the asterisk versions quite a bit. And I like creating new swearwords … e.g. “trollocks” (like bollocks, only there are three of them) … “potooties” (that scared the potooties out of him) … “horse potooties” (similar to bullshit) … etc. It’s nice to know that we Canuck girls have a healthy attitude to such things. 😉

    • Joanna Wiebe

      I love “trollocks” if only because of how you created the word!–three of them, ha! As Canucks, we get access to the CBC and CTV growing up, where “shit” is just another word and it’s really only the F-word that gets bleeped out (until after 8pm EST, when every word is fair game… which is especially funny for kids on PST).

  • WillHoekenga

    Joanna, this post is pretty fuggin’ (where does that one land on the scale?) awesome. I just finished up an ebook that I’m using to launch a new copywriting site and struggled with this very same issue as I wrote it. This post affirms my decision to stick with more colorful and fun words. I like to say that I enjoy the full breadth of the English language. 🙂

    • Joanna Wiebe

      That is such a good way to put it: “I enjoy the full breadth of the English language.” As the saying goes, there’s a time and a place for everything – so there must be a time and a place for some uninhibited lingo… and I think there are definitely cases where the time may be now and the place may be your startup site (B2B or B2C).

  • Stephanie

    Thanks for the reminder that trying to cater to everyone can make your copy boring and miss the mark.

    I also want to say (and meant to last week after reading that “lively” comments discussion) that I really appreciate the way you handled the first comment. That you said “I’m sorry mofo offends you”, instead of “I’m sorry I offend you”. A great way of mediating the situation without apologizing for your action. It may seem small, but it really struck me, so thanks.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Ah, thanks, Stephanie! I was really trying to stay out of that whole tangent, but I needed to address the fact that he felt offended… without, as you say, apologizing as if I’d done something I would take back or change.

  • Marny Harksen Bassett

    It all comes back to understanding your “true” audience. As a clothing copywriter for surf/skate brands, you’d think that sprinkling the product descriptions with a few d–ks and s—heads would be the norm considering the audience is 17 to 25-year-old males. However, knowing that THEIR MOMS are actually doing the buying, it’s a no-no.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      That’s such an important point! Your scenario is like the Ricky Gervais scenario: who’s your real audience? As you’ve pointed out, this is why it’s important to know who the people who are likely to BUY on your site are; then it’s a matter of understanding those people better and writing for them, using their words and messages that resonate with them. We see this with B2B software in the tech startup world a lot — for example, software intended to help lawyers do discovery better may be ‘researched’ by aids and assistants… so do you write for the lawyer or for the assistant? The answer can make or break your site copy.

  • Lexie Bond

    Did you see when Leo Babauta over at Zen Habits pissed off a bunch of his readers when he said “If you want to write a book, fucking write it.”? I thought it made what he was saying so much more powerful, but he got a lot of backlash. It gave me the sads.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Maybe ‘cos the sentiment “fucking write it” isn’t very zen… 🙂 Backlash against things like swearing is a little odd, isn’t it? To me it feels like when you were sitting in class in high school, and the teacher is talking about something really important, and she writes something on the board, and someone puts up their hand and says: “You spelled that wrong.” Like, hello??? Those people totally miss the point because they’re focused on themselves instead of on the topic.

      That said, you can take swearing too far. Another study on swearing – one that didn’t make it into the post – mentioned slurs and epithets. Offensive language that shows one’s ignorance – rather than your awareness of how your audience speaks – doesn’t belong anywhere worth going.

  • Genevieve

    “With regard to risk, you’re also taking a risk when you absolutely avoid euphemisms and impolite words in your copy. What risk is that? Simply the risk that you’ll wind up saying nothing remotely memorable whatsoever.” Nailed it. If you think marketing is about pleasing everyone, you’re completely missing the point. Not saying you MUST use potentially objectionable language, but if it works for your audience, it’s not different than a “tween” site using cutesy language, Thinkgeek’s use of suggestive wordplay in some of their product descriptions, or MailChimp’s goofy copy. If someone is THAT offended by it, they’re probably not going to be a good fit for your product anyways. Just look at Thug Kitchen on Facebook – they have 456,000 followers and every single one of their posts drops the f-bomb at least once (their page description is “Eat like you give a fuck”) – that’s WHY they have nearly half a million followers! Probably a lot more than any run-of-the-mill inspirational quote page.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Can I just say, on the topic of ‘how X group talks’, which has come up in the comments a bit here and def on my Copyblogger post, that the phrase “nailed it” is wonderful. Nobody said “nailed it” three years ago; it’s a term popularized by the younger generation, the very generation that older generations worry about. “Nailed it” is agreement; it’s about someone else being right instead of me being right; it boosts the other person. I f***ing love it. 🙂

      As for your comment, Genevieve: nailed it.

  • brian piercy

    I’m no prude. But the use of possibly offensive language is a clue that the blogger, or the firm he/she represents, has the potential of a misstep. If I’m considering that firm for a new project, and have another firm that is equally creative in a “cleaner” way, I’m going to choose the 2nd firm. It’s risk avoidance.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      It’s *perfect* that you’d choose another firm, Brian! It’s exactly the point, don’t you think? I mean, the swearing firm is simply the wrong fit for you – better that you know that in advance rather than wasting your time and theirs. They’re not right for you, and they’re telling the world they *know* they’re not right for people like you / businesses like yours… but, in the same breath, they’re also telling people who dig edgy shit that they’re totally worth considering. Mission accomplished. The flipside of exclusion is inclusion — same coin.

      • brian piercy

        Yep, agreed. Mission accomplished for all involved. 🙂

  • The way I see it, if it can be spoken on prime time television the word is fair game.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      Pretty good rule. 🙂 Unless you’re in Canada. (See my comment to Suzan above.)

  • Beatrix Willius

    Hilarious post and great language. Again I learned a nice word to use. I’m not sure if the use of mofos is cool in writing. But that may be my conditioning of 15 years as corporate drone.

    • Joanna Wiebe

      After my own time in the corporate world, I’ve been slowly coming around to using words that are really true to the way I speak. It’s pretty damn – not darn – liberating. 🙂

      • Frank C. Siraguso

        Appropos of nothing, this great cussing and discussing made me think of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers.

      • Joanna Wiebe

        Just went and checked it out, Frank. Cool stuff! Lots to read there.

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