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

by Juliette Willow09 May 2014
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."


  • by Catherine Cahill 12/05/2014 2:55:40 PM

    I worked in an organisation whose IT team was solely responsible for adding words to their banned list. Further, their policy was NOT to advise staff of blocked emails.

    My contract was to run a large recruitment campaign in a very tight labour market. Over a few days I realised I was getting zero response to my campaigns (which up until then had been successful).

    It turns out that the IT team decided to add "recruitment" to it's list of banned words because they felt only staff trying to find other jobs would use the word.

    My Title included the word "Recruitment" - so all emails in and out were blocked!!!

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