Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Boy that timeberwolf was one ectoplasm deal

Political correctness has seeped into every facet of life. Witness Goldman Sachs's recent policy banning profanity from emails. Fair enough - it seems reasonable that employees should not using four letter expletives in formal communication. But then where does normal venting of spleen end and profanity start ? Apparently asterisks aren't allowed too. You can't say s@#*. You can't use popular abbreviations such as WTF. Where will this end ? I know where it will end. There will be a Chief Language Officer appointed !

Goldman's reaction is perfectly understandable. In Senate hearings (now commonplace risks for any company), the famous email from Thomas Muntag has been oft quoted  "Boy, that timberwolf was one s___ deal" - now you can understand the title of this post, can't you. This innocuous email has come to haunt the company as pompous and self righteous senators (whose vocabulary of four letter words is no less fearsome) have used it to portray the company as a big bad wolf.

Sure, anybody must be careful if what he puts on an email. Surprisingly, we often write something in an email that we would never dare to say in someone's face. Email provides a false sense of anonymity that leads people to drop their normal caution. Hence the golden rules - never send an email in anger. If you are provoked to send a stinging response, save it in drafts and think about sending it tomorrow. Remember that every email is stored on the company's servers even if you have deleted it from your mailbox. Consider what would happen if your email were published in the front page of the newspaper - would you be mortified at your language or not ?

But policing language seems a bad idea. Social relationships ensure that people would find their own acceptable language. What is profanity in one culture is perfectly acceptable in another. People who use offensive or vulgar language will be  automatically restrained or shunned by their colleagues. It would be better to leave the policy as bad language would be unacceptable and leave the group to determine what is good and bad.

Our respected brethren at Goldman Sachs may be interested to know that their dilemma is not new. It came to one Georges Remi, a Belgian. He was wanting to create a series for children in which one character was a colourful sea captain who was prone to swearing at the drop of a hat. But then, how could you get swearing into a children's series. Remi solved it in a very original way. Thus came the series of mighty oaths that have entertained  millions of us. Billions of blue blistering barnacles, ten thousand thundering typhoons, troglodyte, sea gherkin, blundering bazookas and the like.

Goldman Sachs employees can now send the email - Boy, that timberwolf was one ectoplasm deal. Its officially allowed.