February 27, 2009 11:44 AM   Subscribe

I need to stop swearing, speak more softly, and in general become a more "ladylike" (I hate that word) person. Please please help me.

I am training right now to become a direct entry midwife. I have completed a lot of my preliminary training, and I am now ready to be an assistant to a midwife.

One of the most important things I need to be able to do is to respect the homes and decorum of women who I will be assisting. If I am letting f-bombs drop , I may make a woman who is laboring uncomfortable by my presence, and that's completely unacceptable to me.

I have to wrap up a CPR/NRP course and so I have about a month to go before I NEED to be good to go.

I've already made a casual effort to stop but I've had only minor success. When I get stressed or on edge, I end up breaking my resolution. I know birth has its moments that will be stressful, and I need to get a grip on this now!

The area I live in is very conservative/religious, so even "oh my god" is off the table.

One success I've had is I've replaced the f-bomb with "fudge" and "jesus christ" with "cheese and rice", but I'm worried these may offend people too.

Anyway, please help me AskMe, I'm open to anything (that doesn't cost a lot of money) to help me stop swearing!
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (40 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Watch the Simpsons and listen to what Flanders says if you're worried your substitutions are too offensive.
posted by sanko at 11:50 AM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't see why you think anything but exercising self control is going to help this. Have you never had to work in any kind of professional setting before? Bite your tongue, woman!
posted by sunshinesky at 11:51 AM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Try keeping a tally of how often you swear. Seriously. Keep a post-it note and a pen in your pocket or something. If you're more aware of how often you blurt these things out, you'll be more cautious when it counts.
posted by katillathehun at 11:52 AM on February 27, 2009

Swear jar.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:57 AM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tell all your friends and associates you're looking for ways to expand your vocabulary, eliminate profanity, and generally become more articulate. Tell them violation number one is "the f word." If they hear it coming from you, please say so.

Hear in your mind what you're about to say before saying it. Depending on context I can quickly alter "that's the most f*ked up b**sh*" to "that's just the darndest thing you ever did see."

It gets fun. It's always a really great way to become a neutralizer of anger, stress, or aggression.
posted by ezekieldas at 11:58 AM on February 27, 2009

Spend time in the company of large groups of small children. They will stress you out. You shouldn't cuss around small children, but if you're the type who cusses when stressed, it will happen. The kids will call you out on it. You will then say, "Yes, I said a bad word. I'm sorry I said it. You shouldn't say those words because they are bad. I'm sorry I said the bad word." That ought to get old real fast. It'll desensitize you to stress and teach you to come up with other ways of dealing with it.

Also, crimeny, just shut your mouth. It's not that hard.
posted by phunniemee at 12:00 PM on February 27, 2009

I think your substitution method is the only thing that's gonna work, because you HAVE to be able to say something, you can't just smother every outburst. It's not natural.

I suggest you just find completely inoffensive replacements (how the fuck is "fudge" offensive?) and practice, practice, practice.

Oh my gosh!
Jeez louise!

etc etc. Just keep at it, and after a while, and a lot of effort, your substitutions will start to come out naturally.
posted by tristeza at 12:01 PM on February 27, 2009

Do you wear a watch? If so... every time you swear, take the watch off and put it on the other arm. This will be especially annoying since you wouldn't wear it on the other arm, right? Right! Plus, the whole taking the watch off and putting it back on thing will be pretty damn (argh! switch the watch!) annoying too.

It won't take long before you change your speaking habits.

Good luck!
posted by 2oh1 at 12:03 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am nthing the "hold your tongue" advice, but having good substitutes is always important, for those times when you slip. A good friend of mine was trying to remove "God damn it" from her vocabulary, and switched to "God bless it." Fudge never worked for me, although I have been known to say "Duck," as in "Grrrr, duck it. I'll do something else." It was the "-ck" sound that I needed. Fudge was too soft. I've also said "Spit," instead of shit, although that's almost too close for comfort. Around my kids, I often avoid the substitutes altogether and simply say "Grrrr" or "Grawr."
posted by routergirl at 12:04 PM on February 27, 2009

I don't think replacing swear words with "Flanders words" is going far enough. It's not the swearing that will be offensive, in the end, it's the fact that you'll have lost control of the situation enough to feel like swearing. It seems to me that it's important for a midwife to project the image of being in control, even when she's not! Putting it another way, the last thing I want to hear when I'm giving birth is my midwife or doula or doctor saying, "Oh fudge!"

I think the ability to remain mentally in control is going to come with practice, but until then I would take the opportunity to start listening to your body. When you feel the urge to swear, or when you do swear, do whatever is necessary to center yourself - in my case that's deep breaths and counting backwards from 10, but your process may be different. You could also try the rubber band method.
posted by muddgirl at 12:04 PM on February 27, 2009 [23 favorites]

I always say that the best swear replacement word is "Butterscotch"! It is very satisfying to say angrily.
posted by gwenlister at 12:06 PM on February 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

Get your friends (?and colleagues) working on it. Being picked up every single time helps. If you don't feel you could ask them for help like that, you could maybe dress it up as a charity donation -- you will give a 10 cents towards a favorite good cause for every bad word, that should encourage them in a light-hearted way.

I agree with muddgirl that you need to avoid the appearance of loss of control. Work on that too.

You have chosen a wonderful profession, good luck!
posted by Idcoytco at 12:09 PM on February 27, 2009

P.S. As my example above shows, a swear is often totally unnecessary in the containing sentence. I could have just said it'd be annoying and you'd have known exactly what I meant. I point this out only because many people like to swap one word for another. I knew a woman who said "sugar" instead of swearing... but she said it with such oomph that it still came off as vulgar. So, maybe the question is "how do I become less vulgar?"

Come to think of it, I should work on this too!
posted by 2oh1 at 12:10 PM on February 27, 2009

"Cheese 'n' crackers!"

You can really put a good whine on the "CHEEEeeeEEEEZ" and then you get that good satisfying "ck" sound.
posted by jgirl at 12:14 PM on February 27, 2009

I agree with muddgirl. There's the specific problem of swearing, but as you pointed out there's also the need for you, as the midwife, to project a sense of calm and centeredness. You're the calm in the storm while the birth is happening.

Do you meditate? Would you be interested in starting?

That may be a long-term approach. A shortcut you could take would just be to talk less. Practice not talking at all, unless there is something very specific you want to communicate to a specific person. Don't just go around really "Jesus Christ" or "Cheese and Crackers" to the room in general. Maybe practice only speaking when you are looking someone in the eye or something. That will keep you focused and aware of your words and the impression they will make.
posted by alms at 12:16 PM on February 27, 2009

I used the rubber band method and it worked well for me (long ago). Work on replacing the swearing with something else entirely, like softly humming a certain bit of music, if you want to avoid offending anyone.
posted by mikepop at 12:19 PM on February 27, 2009

I have a friend who says, "Shut the front door!" (Instead of Shut the . . . . . up"

But I second the swear jar . . . put a dollar in every time you swear. It worked for my mom.
posted by ainsley at 12:20 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

The problem with substitutions is that everyone knows they're substitutions. Everyone who watches a movie with bleeped words knows exactly what they're saying and if you're going around saying "cheese and rice" all the time your family will know you're a serial profaner, and while I'm sure they appreciate that you didn't really let one rip, they still think you're pretty uncouth. Find some old tapes of the moon landings, they're full of veteran navy test pilots saying "Golly gee whiz, that is really something!" It's hilarious.

You don't have to swear, nor do you have to substitute, you can simply not say what you were going to say. Pay attention to what you're saying before you say it. If you get to the "f-" before you realize you're swearing you're way too late. You should have caught it back before you started the sentence. Actually express the feeling in words rather than profanity. Practice it. After you let a "Holy shit!" fly say "This is no good" (Or whatever it is you were trying to actually say.) Eventually you'll drop the first part over the second. If you need to slightly make yourself a little more aware of it, try one of the things I suggest in this thread.

And remember you're not warping your personality by doing this, when you're with your friends you'll still be able to swear and blaspheme like a drunken teamster. You'll just have the added super power of being able to hold a conversation with ladies from church and have them also think you're a decent person.

How about "refined" over "ladylike" if that pisses you off so much?
posted by Ookseer at 12:23 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've had to do this for my work. What I learned to do is slow down and stay present. This means thinking about what I'm going to say before I say it. I still allow a 1 or 2 second lag before I say anything - it greatly improves communication, keeps me from interrupting (as much, still a problem) and really cuts down on the swearing. I really think that once you are in the homes of these women, you will edit yourself naturally - just pay attention.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:34 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Learn to swear in obscure languages. I now mutter "codiad" under my breath. Or mispronounce something one of my Punjabi speaking colleagues once taught me. I get to swear, but nobody understands me. At the very least, I've never been slapped.
posted by Solomon at 12:41 PM on February 27, 2009

Don't replace the swears with silly little phrases. It's just irritating and isn't really fixing the problem. Instead of looking for replacements, just stop swearing entirely for the next month. As already suggested, telling others to warn you and keeping a swear jar could help with this. Maybe try an anger management class if you can't control yourself with you're upset.

Don't think of this as something you need to do for a job. Think of it as a lifestyle change. Swearing's fine in a lot of places, and can really spice up and make regular speech fun and interesting, but you should be in control of when you use it. I'd hate the idea of not being in control of what I say.
posted by Relic at 12:44 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Preface to my answer:

1) I have never given birth
2) If/when I give birth, I would like to use a midwife or have a doula with me
3) I am a woman who swears often and loudly, and am not offended when other people do too

That said, personally, I would not want a midwife or a doula helping me give birth who used any kind of extreme language, whether it's Holy Fucking Shit! or Fudge!, because IT WOULD FREAK ME THE FUCK OUT. However much I'm hurting, bleeding, or screaming, all I want to hear from a midwife (or doctor, or doula) is "You're doing great, honey" and "This happens all the time, don't worry." I want someone unflappable, not someone excitable. If my midwife starts squealing Cheese 'n Rice! and looking at my vajajay with deep concern, it's going to cause me more stress and anxiety and that's going to make my labor longer and more difficult.

So instead of worrying about offending delicate sensibilities, maybe you could try thinking about the mother's state of mind, and how being calm and professional will make everybody's work in the delivery room easier. You don't have to be ladylike; you can be bossy and loud, as long as you're exuding an aura of Everything is Under Control. And if you can stay calm, then the swearing takes care of itself.
posted by junkbox at 12:45 PM on February 27, 2009 [7 favorites]

I agree with a swear jar, but commit to donating that money to some cause that deeply offends you. For example, if you're pro-choice, you should have that money going toward an anti-choice group. Give yourself NO reason to want to put money in the jar.
posted by peep at 12:48 PM on February 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Learn to swear in obscure languages.

Don't do this. It's embarrassing.
posted by Relic at 12:48 PM on February 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

If you go the "substitutions" route, try to do it all the time not just in a "professional" setting. That helps it set in.
posted by radioamy at 1:00 PM on February 27, 2009

I've never found cutesy swear-substitutes to work for me; it's all-swearing or no swearing. The in-between stuff makes me angrier, for some reason. (Although I've had limited success with "Son of a...mother" if I catch myself in time.

Just deep breaths. Deep breaths will help.
posted by Neofelis at 1:14 PM on February 27, 2009

A former campus/community radio station manager that had to put literally hundreds of teen-to-early-20s DJs on the air after very little training, here.

This is a trick that almost invariably works: slow down.

It is much easier to control the pace of your speech than to control the content.

Therefore, don't worry about the words you're using, and focus instead on speaking slowly. I don't mean "imitate a Walkman with dying batteries," but just try talking at about 75% of your normal speed. Put a space between words you say, and a second between sentences.

Again: don't worry about what you're saying. If you speak slowly and deliberately, you'll become conscious of the words you're speaking without having to focus on them, and your language will self-correct before you know it.

Talk slow. It doesn't sound nearly as weird as you may think, and it works wonders. Trying to think "don't say that word don't say this word" is frustrating; speaking slowly is actually kind of relaxing and liberating. As a side benefit you'll find people pay more attention and treat you with more gravity.
posted by Shepherd at 1:25 PM on February 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

It sounds like you need to find a nonverbal release for strong emotions and tense or frustrating situations. As others have mentioned, substitute words aren't really the solution: they still betray a lack of self-control (even if it's a self-conscious lack of self-control). Maybe deep breaths could work, or counting to ten in your head, or, I don't know, checking your watch? Something nonverbal.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:54 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

It seems to me that any person in a medical setting should be able to control their frustration and outbursts of profanity. Who among us wants to hear the medical tech who is drawing our blood say, "Oh, fuck, your veins are really a pain in the ass!" ? Or even when we're semi-napping in a hospital bed to hear the environmental tech whine out loud, "Oh, hell, I'm so tired of cleaning up shit" when he or she has to mop the floor where your incontinent roommate had an accident? To be quite honest, if you're not able to work through a stressful situation without resorting to profane exclamations, then you're not really suited to be a midwife. The only practical advice I can give you is to stop talking like a longshoreman in your every day conversation so that you can try and reduce the temptation to resort to swear words while on the job.
posted by Oriole Adams at 2:19 PM on February 27, 2009

My daughter reminds me that I used to say "oh shooty buns" in place of "oh sh*t". She remembered it because now that she is a mother, she finds herself doing it too. "Sugar," "poo," "rats," "heck" all help me when I'm at work because none of the naughty words are acceptable here.
posted by Lynsey at 3:05 PM on February 27, 2009

Here's the advice that I got. But please, as a formerly pregnant lady, I ask: Grit your teeth and force your breath through them when you get angry. That way, laboring mom might think you're breathing with her rather than losing your cool.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:20 PM on February 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I empathized so much with this question that I set up an account just to answer it. I am a new physician (due to finish my internship/residency on July 1, 2009), and there are times when I have gotten partway through a procedure (putting in a chest tube, delivering a baby . . .) and realized that I was utterly terrified. At those times, instead of utering the dreaded "Oops!" or some other less-than-confidence-inducing noise, I've learned to calmly say, "You're doing really well." It's a way of gathering my wits and reminding myself that I know what I'm doing, while providng some comfort to the patient, who doesn't have to know that I'm actually talking to myself.
posted by TheLittlestRobot at 3:37 PM on February 27, 2009 [14 favorites]

Get in the habit of not saying anything at all until you do a quick mental check of what's about to come out of your mouth. Your problem isn't that you swear, it's that the direct connection between your brain and your mouth means you've forsaken all editorial control of your speech.

Simply don't say anything, ever, without a fast reflection on it to see if it's what you want to say in that situation. If you get in this habit, the 1 second pause will disappear and you'll simply become more thoughtful about how you speak, which is a virtue in and of itself.

It's a matter of speaking more consciously and less automatically.
posted by fatbird at 3:44 PM on February 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Just to put an exclamation point on muddgirl's comment, have you heard the ATC recording of the pilot before he crashed into the Hudson?*

He did not scream, "Holy f**k!! We're all gonna f**king die!" He repeated a couple of times, "We may end up in the Hudson" as calm as talking about where to go for lunch. That's a professional under a level of stress most of us will never know.

Be like that.

* Here's the link. You want to hear the New York Tracon audio.
posted by trinity8-director at 4:30 PM on February 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

I ump for youth baseball, and had to learn the same thing. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised that once you get on the job, you'll be in that mode and separate your behavior from how you handle yourself in other situations. Spend a little time mentally prepping yourself for your job, and you'll have a whole new mental state that will help you have the right vocabulary.
posted by stevis23 at 4:35 PM on February 27, 2009

The swear jar (well, I used a coffee cup) worked for me, but that was at a desk in a fast-paced business environment, I wasn't exactly pulling children out of people. Anyway, there were 2 key variations to the standard swear jar that were clutch for me:

1. Put prices on different words. I made f-bombs a buck, but the key was to make everything else under that random amounts that would cause me to have to stop and make change with the swear cup. The act of stopping to have to count out the change and then actually having to carry that change around with me as a reminder for the rest of the day of my swearing was usually annoying enough to make me really focus on what it was that I had said that I wished I hadn't.

2. Every year, at Christmas, I'd walk downstairs to 34th street (I worked in NYC) and find the first Salvation Army bell-ringer I came to, and dump my swear cups into his bucket, while he stood there with his jaw on the ground. Kind of became an annual tradition. The point was that I got no reward out of it, I had to give that money away, forming another lasting memory of my general swearing over the past year. The swear cups got smaller over the years. :)

I think you'll find this effort is easier than you think now that you're really putting your mind to it. Good on ya.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:18 PM on February 27, 2009

If it's any help, for quite a while I've worked in an environment where it is completely acceptable to call people a pack of c**ts and to drop the f-bomb multiple times in each sentence. I have moved, uh, elsewhere, and the most powerful incentive I have to stop swearing is the appalled look on people's faces when they hear me. For example, this morning:

Friend:What about so and so?
Me:So and so? He's a f**king c**t, that's what he is.
Friend: HORROR.
Me:Oh f**ck, s**t, sorry. But he is a mother-f**king c**t, really.
Me: I mean... Yes. He's really not a nice person.

Seriously, it's working already. Yesterday I would've written all those swear words out in full, and perhaps in caps too!

Your environment *will* penalize you when you swear inappropriately and if you're even a tiny bit sensitive to other peoples' reactions their disapproval will provide a powerful disincentive to swear.
posted by t0astie at 1:49 AM on February 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

Who among us wants to hear the medical tech who is drawing our blood say, "Oh, fuck, your veins are really a pain in the ass!" ? Or even when we're semi-napping in a hospital bed to hear the environmental tech whine out loud, "Oh, hell, I'm so tired of cleaning up shit" when he or she has to mop the floor where your incontinent roommate had an accident?

This. Nor do I want to hear someone say "Oh, fudge, your veins are really a pain in the bum" or "Oh, heck, I'm so tired of cleaning up poo."

"Oh, fuck, your veins are a pain in the ass" is vulgar and unprofessional; "Oh, fudge, your veins are a pain in the bum" is cutesy and unprofessional.

"H'm. Sorry, I'm having some trouble getting a vein here. Are you okay?" is what I would like to hear in that setting. To me, that's professional and appropriate and would be reassuring.

We cannot all aspire to the condition of Chesley Sullenberger and his colleagues in facing crises with perfect calm and clarity--those flight attendants were equally amazing--but it's certainly something to think about. "Cheese and crackers, we're all going to die!" would not have been reassuring to hear.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:49 AM on February 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

At the risk of sounding all Zen and shit:

Be mindful. Take a couple breaths/moments before speaking. Centre yourself. Be aware of where you are and what you're doing.

I had a similar problem when I was still working. For whatever reason my swearing quotient had gone through the roof. I made the decision that my language was totally inappropriate for work (it didn't matter what my employer thought - it mattered what I thought). It was hard to ratchet it back down, but I did it. I started out using silly words/combinations and then gradually to no swear words.

I'm back to using a few (I'm unemployed) but I really like using old fashioned swear words. Consarnit! Dagnabbit! And other languages - scheiss really works for me as do bloody, bugger and wanker. Why yes, English English is another language!
posted by deborah at 4:08 PM on March 4, 2009

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