Sir Richard Branson sent an email so offensive his own company blocked it

by |
Is the term ‘bollocks’ vulgar? Bollocks, says Sir Richard Branson. He blogged about a battle he fought with his email system after discovering his own IT department had blocked the use of the word.

He was emailing Virgin Atlantic CEO Craig Kreeger, he said, and happened to use the word ‘bollocks’, only to be surprised to be notified the email could not be delivered. Virgin’s IT department kindly alerted him that language deemed profane, vulgar or offensive wouldn’t pass filters.

Ironically, Branson’s company once won a court case determining that ‘bollocks’ was not, in fact, vulgar. UK police had taken Virgin Records to court after they displayed The Sex Pistols’ iconic album Never Mind the Bollocks in the storefront. According to police, it was too vulgar because ‘bollocks’ was a derivative of the word ‘testicles’. But Branson brought a linguistics professor in as a witness to testify that it was actually a nickname given to priests in the 18th Century.

Of course, Virgin’s email filters are about to receive an adjustment.

“Craig loved the story, and is getting his IT team to correct the email block so we can all continue to use the word bollocks in the future,” wrote Sir Branson.

And maybe the policy change will be for the better, since a study by the University of East Anglia found swearing at work can reinforce solidarity amongst staff, and generally has a positive effect.

"Certainly in most scenarios, in particular in the presence of customers or senior staff, profanity must be seriously discouraged or banned," advised professor of management Yehuda Baruch. “However, our study suggested that in many cases, taboo language serves the needs of people for developing and maintaining solidarity, and as a mechanism to cope with stress. Banning it could backfire."

He added: "Managers need to understand how their staff feel about swearing. The challenge is to master the ‘art’ of knowing when to turn a blind eye to communication that does not meet their own standards."
  • Al on 5/12/2014 8:34:45 AM

    Not being a prude but offensive/vulgar language at any time in the work place is insensitive and not necessary. It can also be offensive to a few and create an uncomfortable work environment as well.

  • Al on 5/9/2014 12:05:22 PM

    Marchelle, you are correct in that vile language does not belong in our society no materr what the circumstances are. I often correct our youth about their use of the "F" word which flows so freely out of their mouths. But when I hear adults use this type of language, I get upset. The only appropriate use of those type of words are when you hammer your finger or stub your toe. I can handle someone shouting out a bad word when these type of events happen, but aside from that, the use of profanity should not be used period. Just look at the "N" word that we still deal with to this day. It appears to be OK when used by a certain demographic, but when others use the term, everyone gets on the defensive.

    Let's just get rid of all profanity and those other offensive words no matter who you are or what you do. Appropriate language is the moral norm and more people need to stand up for it. It is my moral right to point out to others who use profanity in their everday language that it is wrong and that they need to change their vocabulary to be more professional, polite, considerate and moral.

  • Marchelle on 5/9/2014 9:54:30 AM

    I don't think vulgar language is appropriate in public at all. Why can't people express themselves without resorting to vile language. This should apply to women, men, transgender, old, young; everyone. I don't know why standards have relaxed, I don't like it. I process it fine along the path of offensive. If you're OK with it, carry on.

  • . on 5/9/2014 9:25:56 AM

    Marchelle, I hope you're being ironic.

    What is it exactly about the female body that makes women more sensitive to certain words? Do you think we need protection from the world at large? Are we delicate flowers that should be excluded from everyday life? Do we not have the mental or emotional capacity to process profanity?

    Your comment essentially equated grown women with naïve children.

    (As an aside, I wonder if you would say the same thing about transgender women. Or are they more capable of handling the big, bad world because they were born men?)

  • Marchelle Simmons on 5/9/2014 9:05:13 AM

    I find the use of profanity in the presence of and by women offensive. I also think it indicates a poor vocabulary and/or disrespect of women. Let's find another way to show solidarity.

HRD America forum is the place for positive industry interaction and welcomes your professional and informed opinion.

Name (required)
Comment (required)
By submitting, I agree to the Terms & Conditions