Thursday, July 29, 2010

Goldman Sachs bans profanity

Employees at Goldman Sachs have been banned from swearing in emails. Software will be employed to screen out swear words and even those using asterisks or acronyms will be targeted according to reports. No longer will someone be able to describe a particular deal as f***ing awful or a CEO as being a complete b******.

The move prohibits all 34,000 traders, investment bankers and other employees from using profanity not only in emails, but also text messages and instant messages. No list has been issued as to what words are taboo, but they are not going to take any more sh*t.

It is not the first time that the issue of profanity on the trading floor has been raised. Citigroup Inc. and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. already have policies against using swear words in company email, according to the companies. Morgan Stanley tells employees that their email should be "professional, appropriate and courteous at all times," but doesn't specifically forbid such words.

NYSE Euronext Inc. "unofficially discourages" the use of profanity on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, according to a spokesman, and frequently issues memos reminding traders to exercise proper decorum. It began enforcing the policy more aggressively after TV networks started broadcasting live reports from the floor, according to traders. CNN's Maggie Lake described it as a bit 'big brother' but would not divulge whether she herself had resorted to swearing in her electronic communications.

Screening does not always work however. Satellite-services provider Intelsat SA, of Luxembourg, began screening email for profanities but it found the level of emails that were wrongly captured was too high and later dropped the surveillance methods. It now relies on a policy of reminding employees of "appropriate language for external use." Some acronyms may be read in different ways. POS is sometimes used to mean Pile of S***. However, it could equally refer to something as being positive, or as an abbreviation for 'possibly'. Some may not even be on the radar at all. To say "see you next Tuesday", might appear on the face of it as somewhat innocuous. However it is occasionally used as an inference of a highly offensive four letter expletive beginning with the letter 'c'. Some words may not be commonly used in America, while others are less offensive there than in other parts of the world.

For example w***er is a pejorative term of English origin, common in Commonwealth and ex-Commonwealth countries, including Canada, Britain, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. It initially referred to an onanist but has since become a general insult. In the US the word is far less used.

According to some research into the use of profanity roughly 80 to 90 spoken words each day [0.5% to 0.7% of all words] are swear words with people varying from between 0% to 3.4%. In comparison first person plural pronouns such as we, us and our make up 1% of spoken words. Research looking at swearing in 1986, 1997, and 2006 in America found the same top ten words were used of a set of over 70 different swear words. The most used swear words were f***, s***, hell, damn, goddamn, bitch, and sucks which accounted for around 80% of all profanities spoken.

Research into swearing practices in the United States suggests that "men generally curse more than women, unless said women are in a sorority, and that university provosts swear more than librarians or the staff members of the university day care center" [SFGate].

Last year, J.P. Morgan had to briefly override its automated profanity detectors so it could write a press release that mentioned a charity called Feel Your Boobies Foundation. That is the name of a Pennsylvania breast-cancer prevention group, which got a grant from the bank.

For Goldman Sachs the new dictate is more about removing any further risks of embarrassment such as a much publicised email which gained notoriety during Senate hearings. The message from Tom Montag to Daniel L. Sparks drew widespread media attention when it was read out. "boy, that timeberwof [sic] was one shi**y deal", the email read. The new rules are perhaps a little too late [WSJ / NYDN / Financial Post / Business Insider].

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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