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Which Industry Inspires the Most Swearing?

What kinds of companies elicit profanity from their customers?  The answer, according to a Seattle mobile-advertising company, is satellite television providers. Housing contractors and cable-TV companies filled out the top three, according to the analysis of 1.2 million U.S. consumer calls from March 2012 to November 2013 by Marchex, a company that makes software connecting customers’ clicks on websites to call centers for 100,000 businesses.

Standard disclosures that permit recording of those calls also let Marchex dig deeply into them. One out 82 calls to satellite TV providers—the largest of which in the U.S. are DirecTV (DTV) and Dish Network (DISH)—led to customers swearing, the company says. At the opposite end: veterinarians’ offices. Vets generated just one instance of cursing for every 2,634 calls.

Researchers scanned anonymized transcripts of conversations for common curse words, starting with comedian George Carlin’s famed “seven dirty words” and adding a few others, says John Busby, a Marchex senior vice president.

Americans’ favorite expletive: the f-bomb, he said. Some callers dropped it while waiting on hold. Others cursed over unexpected price increases, missed appointments, or difficult-to-decipher charges, according to Busby. Men were more likely to swear than women; about 64 percent of curse-filled calls were from men.

Certain industries were excluded for a lack of data, including finance and insurance, Busby said.

The study follows up one that Marchex released in May, which ranked swearing by state, showing that people from Ohio were the most likely to curse. Washington was the least profane state.

Marchex Chief Executive Officer Russell Horowitz regards the research as more than water-cooler talk, saying it offers intelligence that can help companies boost sales and drive spending on so-called “pay-for-call” advertising. That’s a $68 billion market in which Marchex competes with Google. By monitoring the location and frequency of calls about termites, for instance, clients can pinpoint hot spots for infestations.

“There are places where we have more insights about what’s going on with these businesses than they do,” says Horowitz.

Robison is Seattle bureau chief for Bloomberg News.

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