The F-Bomb: A Powerful Verbal Tool

You might think the F-bomb is a word you should avoid like the plague. Hey, you’re a lawyer, your head filled with words that are long, sophisticated, nuanced, sometimes even Latin. You don’t need profanity to get your point across, right? Perhaps. But there are moments when it may be appropriate to abandon your impressively vast vocabulary and speak in a more informal fashion. There may even be situations where the F-bomb is the best word choice. It’s a word that, when used with skill, in the appropriate context, can put power into your message that it would otherwise lack. It can also help you come across as direct and down-to-earth, which many lawyers struggle to do.

Lest anyone misunderstand me, I’ll state the obvious: The F-bomb is not appropriate in most situations. If you don’t already know where you should absolutely not drop an F-bomb, you should just avoid the word altogether. Okay? Good. Or, if you think the creative use of profanity would violate your personal code of ethics, this advice will be of no use to you.

When to drop the F-bomb?

You may already use it at certain moments. Let’s leave the sexual meaning of the word aside, and check out what Lewis Black wrote in the foreward of a terrific (and very scholarly) book on this very subject, The F Word:

[It], I believe, is one of the few words in the English language with true medicinal qualities. It clears our heads of the cobwebs that our bosses, our politicians, and our pundits seem to spin with their tired words and useless clichés . . . judicious use of the word in times of extreme stress or irritation can work wonders for your colon, blood pressure, and central nervous system. It even works as an antidepressant. The word is so efficient, it’s like a miracle drug. One quick guttural expulsion is all you need (or sometimes two or three if things are really bad).

So if you, like me, might utter this storied word when you, say, discover a flood in your basement, then you probably know other people who do too, including your clients and co-workers. There are moments in a relationship (particularly when the law is part of that relationship) when a carefully dropped F-bomb can provide just the right amount of emphasis, frustration, or jubilation. But know your audience, the environment, and the context well before you remove this sharp verbal arrow from your quiver, and use it rarely. Because you’d rather come across as a stuffy, verbose lawyer than as a complete assh**e.

(photo: Shutterstock)


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  • From ABA Group on LinkedIn RE: this post:

    Using it may be justified if you are confronting a home invasion and want to convey that you are willing to put your safety and well-being that of your family ahead of the criminal’s. But in a business or social setting? Not unless your message is that you are an inconsiderate jerk.

    Using it in a business negotiation is a a powerful verbal tool, all right. It’s a powerful tool to tell people that you lack either self-respect, respect for those within earshot, or both. And a powerful tool to let everyone know that you imagination, vocabulary and the power of mature persuasive speech, manners, education, and upbringing.

    The fact that we are even debating this on a web site devoted to a learned profession says a great deal. What’s next — a thread about the power of coming to the office in torn filthy clothing after going for weeks without bathing?

    • Way to read the article, ABA Group commenter!

  • Andy Mergendahl


  • I deal with a lot of family law clients from regional areas of South Australia. I have found that the ‘f-bomb’ is a very useful tool to bring you into touch with your clients.

    Before that can possibly be appropriate, you need to establish a professional relationship with the client, and that means establishing very clear boundaries between ‘lawyer’ and ‘friend.’ However when you client is getting hung-up about what the other side is doing and it isn’t relevant, I sometimes find it useful to say something like ‘What he does isn’t your problem any more. Who gives a fuck what he does when he doesn’t have the kids with him?’

    As you say though, this is only appropriate in very limited circumstances.