Have you noticed that we all are swearing a bit more these days? It is true—the use of curse words in Facebook posts rose 41% between 2019 and 2021 and 27% on Twitter, according to the online newswire service Storyful. It’s not hard to see why—people are under greater stress and have less patience due to the events of the past few years.

When I was growing up, my family never swore in public because you risked coming off as uncouth. I believe that’s still largely true. But there’s an interesting exception these days—using profanity in online reviews of products and services. According to a recent study coauthored by marketing professor Katherine Lafreniere, PhD, at University of Alberta, an occasional swear word in a review is regarded as helpful by readers. “Mild cursing helps your online voice stand out from a sea of others and sound more persuasive,” explains Dr. ­Lafreniere. “And readers believe you must have strong feelings…if you are willing to break a social taboo in a public forum.” Dr. Lafreniere based her research on nearly 300,000 Amazon.com and
Yelp.com reviews. Profane customer reviews consistently received more “helpful” and “useful” votes from readers.

Before you start swearing like a sailor about the restaurant you visited, be aware that there are limits on the effectiveness of profanity. The positive effects quickly dissipated if swearing was directed at people rather than at a product. And profanity had to be used sparingly—more than one or two curses per review was seen as negative.

So, I hope you find this column $%*#&%^ helpful!

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