Repressing one's inner gutter mouth

After the Christmas break, which involved three glorious weeks out of the office – although sadly not three weeks off work – I donned my grown-up clothes, found my heels under the sofa and made like a heffalump back into the office.

Penelope WhitsonNot that I don’t like my job or my workmates, of course (they read this). But getting back into work mode after a break, especially the Christmas/New Year one, can be as difficult as jelly-wrestling Harry Potter when he’s wearing his invisibility cloak.

It appears that over that period I once again picked up the habit of having a drink at lunchtime and let my love of inappropriate language get slightly out of control. I spent much of my first week back in the office wrestling with my natural inclination to say whatever I felt and reacquainting myself with the polite vocabulary I’d left in my knickers drawer for safe keeping.

Usually I manage to keep my gutter mouth quiet from 8-5, as do the majority of my workmates. And if there are exclamations of vulgarity, I note most people keep it to ‘acceptable’ filth. There are occasional shouts of “who the beast with two backs did that”, or the more usual “faecal matter”. And “bleeding devil’s pit” seems to be accepted almost everywhere.

However, a newsroom I used to work in took it to another level. Quite an eye-opening one. All those deadlines bring out one’s inner fishwife. It’s also probably the only place where someone could legitimately shout, “How are we spelling ‘man who engages in incestuous relations with his mother’ this week?” after a certain politician’s rant a few years ago.

I once spent a year teaching English in a South Korean kindergarten. Small children, regardless of their nationality, can tell when you’ve said something very naughty indeed and then, bless them, enjoy repeating it. I sincerely hope their parents just thought their little munchkins were incapable of pronouncing count correctly. An honest mistake on my part, I promise.

Work emails are another place where keeping vulgarity to a minimum is recommended. For some reason, seeing obscenities written down is somehow more shocking than hearing them. And often it’s so much more entertaining. A workmate sent an email without checking it and the client was fortunate enough to read about someone’s previous experience whoring for a law firm. Working/whoring – you say potato, I say ... actually I can’t say anything because I’m too busy sniggering.

While I don’t think the workplace is an appropriate outlet for excessive vulgarity, I did find my workmates in London pant-wettingly hysterical when they swore. It’s the accents. It’s just like the telly! Thomas the Tank Engine gets a bit dirrrrrty after a hard day’s shunting.

But, to quote my mum: ”There’s a code, darling.”

My personal code of conduct meter says I’m usually 90 percent clean and 10 percent in dire need of having my mouth washed out. Does anyone else find it tricky to maintain 100 percent cleanliness in the language stakes? Or I am just quite depraved?

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