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Today  advice columnist Coco McCann weighs in on all too common social gaffe–the “F” word.

Dear Coco,

I have a friend who uses the “F” word as frequently as a preposition in her daily speech and in writing. I feel embarrassed for her, but she says if anyone has a problem with her use of obscenities, it’s their problem—not hers. Am I wrong to sit quietly on the sidelines when she swears? I would like to keep our friendship, but the truth is her swearing is offensive to me, too. How should I handle this?–Sincerely, Offended in Omaha

Dear Offended in Omaha,

Ah, yes. I’m familiar with and particularly opposed to this “Me first” line of thinking. Oh, I’ll admit it works for some situations. Don’t like my purple shoes with my green shorts? Deal with it or look away. My choice of colors isn’t hurting you or anyone else!

That attitude only goes so far in social situations. Does your friend’s use of obscenities regularly offend others? If the answer is yes, it doesn’t matter whether it’s in writing or in person, it’s time for her to engage in a little self-examination and editing.

I once listened to a group of writers rationalize why it’s okay to use the “F” word in their work. I left that conversation scratching my head. Why would you deliberately drive people away when you’re attempting to communicate with large audiences? It makes no sense. In all forms of communication, smart, thoughtful people customize messages to fit audiences.

Obscenities are inherently offensive to large segments of the population. If you’re among an intimate coterie of friends who swear like sailors, fine. Do what you like. When you’re in the company of a wider audience, don’t assume swearing is okay. Adapt.

Your friend’s “I’m okay, you’re not okay” attitude is the height of arrogance. Here’s why: it shows a wholesale disregard for how her words affect others. This is the basis for all questions of etiquette. Polite people do not project their offenses onto the backs of the offended. Polite behavior doesn’t enslave us to pleasing all people all the time; rather it liberates us to build bridges with people from all walks of life.

My grandmother used to say that relying on obscenities to spruce up your speech shows a lack of imagination, a fear of domination, and poor breeding. I don’t know about you, but I’m against lack, fear, and impoverishment of any kind—especially if it reflects badly on my parents.

Time for some personal candor: I occasionally let an obscenity slip. It’s a habit from a previous life that lingers in my brain. When it happens, the first thing I do is look at why I lowered my standard. Was I trying to look cool or strong? Was I afraid of something? Was I speaking unconsciously? If so, I try to address that as a personal matter. I learn from it and forgive myself. If it’s too late to apologize, I move on and vow not to do it again. In this way, I’ve chiseled at this unfortunate trait until I seldom have to deal with it.

How to handle a friend’s offensive speech

Now, for your original question: how should you deal with your friend’s offensive speech? That depends. How receptive and open-minded is she? How well do you know each other? If the friendship is casual but not close, you might signal your discomfort through facial expressions. I trust you know what I mean. If she values your friendship and she isn’t clueless, she may link your expression with her behavior.

If your relationship is close, you might say, “You know, I think of you as such a classy person and I’m a little disappointed when I hear you use that kind of language because it’s beneath your usual standard. Have you ever considered how it has the potential to undermine your message?”

If that kind of directness is bothersome and the relationship is only casual, you have a choice to make. How much do you value the friendship? Is this an enduring relationship or a transient one? Can you look past her offensive language and enjoy her good traits? Do you feel confident that her behavior is not reflecting poorly on you?

We all have choices to make about how we spend our time. We can choose friends who lift us up and inspire us to greater heights. We can encourage our closest friends without harshness or judgment.

If your friend is a jewel and this is the only area of your incompatibility, I suggest you give her the widest possible berth. After all, none of us are perfect! Sadly, your friend’s language is probably robbing her of new relationships that will never bloom. It’s one thing to tolerate unbecoming conduct in an existing friendship, quite another to embrace it in a new one.

If you have a question about sticky social situations, from office politics to modern etiquette, send your letters to coco@dressedherdaysvintage.com