Asked if she could persuade her husband, the President, to say fertilizer rather than manure, Bess Truman said, “You have no idea how long it took me to get him to say manure.”
Citing Harry Truman, one Harvard scholar says we use swear words for different reasons. The one common denominator? They might be a “hotline” to our emotions. Because shouting a curse word can have a cathartic impact when we have physical pain and even reduce stress, researchers have hypothesized that they connect us to an emotional part of our brain rather than a language center. And for a CEO, swear words could signal solidarity with employees, investors and analysts.
CEOs and Curse Words
So where are we going with this? To investor conference calls and curse words economic indicators.
Reviewing thousands of conference calls with investors and analysts, Bloomberg discovered that CEO use of profanity spiked during the recession. The 4 most common words? As they explained, “the infamous F-bomb, the scatalogical S-word, the blasphemous G.D., and the derogatory A.H.”
Our Bottom Line: Economic Indicators
I know this is a leap, but the correlation between CEO language and the recession took me to the realm of economic indicators. On August 21, we heard that the U.S. coincidental indicators index, a barometer of current economic health that includes payrolls and production, went up by .2%. (Could we call CEO use of profanity during conference calls a coincidental indicator?) Meanwhile, conveying a rosier outlook for the next 3 to 6 months, the U.S. leading indicators index, with fewer jobless claims and more building permits, climbed by .9%.
And finally, interesting that only one woman was on the F-word salty language list.