Personal Impact

Bad language, Balotelli, and international audiences

Mario Balatelli is the 20-year old soccer player who won ‘man of the match’ in the UK’s FA Cup Final in 2011.  He plays for the resurgent Manchester City and he’s an Italian hot-shot, hot-head who brings pace, athleticism and danger to every team that he plays for. He brings the same to their Public Relations efforts. In the breathless post-match interview, as reported in ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ he was-

Asked if it had been his best performance of the season, he paused briefly before offering an assessment of absolute candour. “All my season was s***,” he said. “Can I say that? I’ve played not very well, but today maybe I played more for the team.” An apology (presumably for the ‘s’ word) followed from ITV presenter Adrian Chiles but, after a game in which he had performed with absolute discipline, the absence of any verbal restraint was perhaps predictable. Full article here- Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli shows maturity in FA Cup final as he gives man-of-the-match display – Telegraph.

It was an honest answer, in moderate language for a football dressing room, but probably wrong for 5.30 pm on UK mainstream TV.  And the apology and post-comment-commentary seemed to suggest that it was another example of his hot-headedness.  I disagree.

When people learn English, or any second language, we learn grammar, vocabulary, slang and swear words.  But it’s very seldom that we really understand the strength of swear word we’re using- we’ve never been taught the difference between s*** and F***.   No teacher would and no business school has tried.  So when we’re speaking in a second or third language, we often have no real idea whether the bad word is ‘bad for grandma’s ears’ or ‘bad for anyone’s’.  And we only find out by bitter experience.

I was working in the US with a group of very experienced and brilliant Swedish consultants back in 2000.  Anders, the CEO of this  multi-million, multi-national consulting firm was closing his pitch to a global US bank.  Anders was a ‘good school, great university, great MBA’ type, with brilliant command of the English language, and he finished like this-

I want to say that working with you tothis point has been a real pleasure (to much head nodding from the very senior clients), and that the remainder of the project will be joy for us, if selected, to work with such an esteemed client group as yourselves.  (More headnodding and agreement).  So let’s just f***ing do this.

Silence. Long, lonely, shocked silence.  Anders knew he’d dropped a blunder.  But he didn’t know how.  He recovered the situation by apologising profusely and blaming his ‘poor English’.  But his English was fine.  Just the lack of a sliding scale of profanity anywhere in his impressive education.  So I created such a scale.  And you can have it too. It’s too detailed to be posted here. Just mail me for a copy.

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