Oh My Flippin’ Heck!

Lately, I’ve been thinking about swearing in literature. I’m concerned about whether the exclusion of cussing in my written words might be seen as inauthentic or inaccurate.

As writers, we need to convince our audience that a scene happens. The characters are real, even if they can conjure a blue flame or fly on a dragon. The character conversations also need to sound humanoid so that readers follow it.

You may be wondering what the big deal is, since I probably talk or listen to talking all the time. Right? Well, the ‘big deal’ is that I am not around a lot of colorful language. A lesser-known fact about the LDS peoples I am part of is that they/we don’t swear. I kid you not.

In overhearing a group of teenagers at McDonald’s the other day, I heard plenty of, “I know right”‘s and “What the heck?”s but nothing stronger.

My children will sometimes pop out a, “Holy crap!” (surely picked up from their father), and said paternal figure sometimes gives me a reprimanding look.

When I type or say, “Gosh dang it!” I really say it. There was even a point in my life at which I could count on one hand the number of times I swore. Then I turned 15….

In my mind, I take the high road. Classic literature and timeless works also do not contain much in the way of low-class utterances (Mark Twain aside), particularly those aimed at the children’s market. The books I enjoy most have little cursing, plus only allusions to sex or violence instead of First-Person Agony.

Do you, the other writers out there, feel swearing is necessary? Can two people have an adult conversation without it?

 

Think about it and let me know. Meanwhile, here is my Week in Review:
Wednesday, November 21: The Truth About the Holidays, my crotchety old lady post, plus a weekly review.
Thursday, November 22: Happy Thanksgiving!
Friday, November 23: Winner of The Second Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest announced. Congratulations, Babbitman.
Saturday, November 24: Beginning of The Third Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest (please enter!).
Also, Everyone Feels This Way?, a ‘poem’ about social anxiety.
Sunday, November 25: Re-blogged the announcement about Susanna Leonard Hill’s children’s holiday story contest.
Monday, November 26: Wilhelmina Winters, Seventy-Three,
and Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Price Tag over at my motherhood site.
Tuesday, November 27: Inspirational Quote by Stephen Black. He’s a mean old miser humble, inspired person who is mean mean mean has great thoughts and observations.
Wednesday, November 28: This post. 🙂

76 thoughts on “Oh My Flippin’ Heck!

  1. Absolutely. Further, writers and people in general so overuse their swearing that it loses the entire point of it anyway. Certain swear words are applied to anger, happiness, sex, food and just about everything else. So what’s the point then? An occasional mild expletive to express extreme anger, maybe, but I tend to view those who overuse swearing/crude language (in writing or in speaking) to simply be lazy and without a decent vocabulary. I once offered to buy a guy at work a dictionary with the F section removed so he would see that other words do exist.

    Liked by 2 people

      • I am offended by powerful language. I have found that some people that I had made friends with struggled (mostly successfully) to tone down their commonly used words because of me. It is deemed most appropriate to use a word such as “dang or darn” as a conscious substitute for the more colorful language commonly used in the South. (Maybe it’s the heat.) The milder words often sound rather charming from a lady with a heavy Southern accent. The milder wording that you speak about is not considered cursing in my culture. I had a brother-in-law who would put curse words inside other cursings. Even though those words would singe your hair, it was funny how he could curse with a word to compete with supercalafradulisticexpeladousis. of Mary Poppins fame. I’m certainly not sure I spelled that correctly.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Good question. I have very little swearing in KSC but when I use it, it’s for maximum impact. The F Bomb is dropped once in the entire book and I think it’s appropriate given the context within which it’s used. There is a lot of Belfast slang which you might regard as offensive but, if I didn’t include it, then the characters wouldn’t be credible.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Plenty of people don’t swear. It’s really funny in my house because I will swear like a drunken sailor but rarely ever use swear words in my writing (I don’t mind if I read it when it’s necessary, but dislike it when that’s all the character knows)…my son on the other hand has no problem with reading it, but he hates saying swear words.

    In short…let the character decide. It’s their life. The more natural a character feels, the more the characteristics are welcomed.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I’m not lds but we were not allowed to swear or even use “Sunday school swearing” such as oh my goodness, or oh man or for crying out loud. Sheesh… but I do cuss now.

    People can have conversations without cussing, but if your characters are regular folks they maybe should cuss? Or not… there are plenty of books both ways. We generally do not cuss unless we are angry and then depending on who is around. 😁

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I was thinking that very same question when writing for nano. The latest book is devoid of anything worse than the occasional ‘bloody’ and I had to rein in the urge to add the odd f-bomb when I felt the character would have let loose. That said, while I and my daughter swear fairly often, my wife and my son never do and they really are like you are your crew. However I wrote a novel about two homeless people, one a serious addict based on some experiences I have had here in London. It is very gritty and a little dystopian and it would feel very unreal if no one swore. I had one beta reader who thought the 184 fs was too many but I never removed one. Some people will be put off and I understand that but most people who have read and commented have no problem wit the reality it conjures. No right answer I suppose.
    As for sex scenes, they are truly the worst things to wrote and I avoid them like the plague; hypocrite? Probably

    Liked by 2 people

  6. One of my aunts was an English professor. She always said that if you cursed, your vocabulary wasn’t large enough. Many people thought she was stuck on herself because she spoke very authoritative and with strict proper English. She trained that way to be a professor, so she was very misunderstood. She was brilliant but was nothing like people saw her. The writing she did was for an engineering company and was an editor. If she wrote a book, it would be so annoying no one would read past the first page. I don’t propose you using filthy language, but your characters need to be real to the audience. Take the liberties as an artist would and make it your own. You don’t have to apologize for it or listen to criticism. Those things are a part of that pesky parrot and not you. Let the dang parrot absorb all of the negatives to free you to be authentic.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thanks, Beverly! 🙂

      I think I’ll try to see how the characters want to talk, if it works. When I was far more naïve a writer, I vowed to never have cursing. I’ve read a lot more adult fiction since and personally prefer when the language doesn’t stick out.

      ..and I have an aunt like yours. -Not as British but just as dully precise.

      Like

        • No tar and feathers, here. 🙂 And I realize that you said your aunt was an English professor -not that SHE was English….

          I’m sure the Southern men would get some sidelong looks; a few families moving to another part of the restaurant, etc. Most people are non-confrontational. 🙂

          Like

          • I would almost wager that the people in the restaurant wouldn’t understand the men. Our accents sound like an entirety different language. My Dad’s family of 9 children were as poor as it comes. My aunt’s 7 year old son was hit and killed by a transfer truck. She had many ECT’s to get through the trauma then went on to earn her degree. She died last Christmas with Alzheimer’s. I have had 30 ECT’s for Major Depressive Disorder. ECT’s destroys brain cells and my long-term use of benzodiazepines does the same. If I begin to curse it will be Alzheimer’s.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I visited a friend in New Haven, CT in September. I got some funny looks from waitresses. I think they may have been trying to process in their mind what I had said. I’m sure they are used to many accents from students at Yale. My friend was born in Arkansas, but she hasn’t lived in the South for years, so she hardly has any remnants of a Southern accent.

            Liked by 1 person

          • I’m sure that is true. I watched a YouTube video today of a British couple trying to figure out the meanings of words that are commonly used in the South. It was very funny. Just the way the man pronounced Alabama was hilarious. It certainly proves that a writer needs to know his audience. I saw an Andrew Lloyd Webber play on a visit to London. The play was supposedly set in the South in the US. There were so many things wrong in his concept of the South that it didn’t make sense. My friends and I were talking before the play started and found that a couple sitting directly behind us lived about 50 miles from us. What a coincidence! They were just as perplexed my the play. You have to write about what you know.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Beverly I taught writing for years and I agree with your Aunt. That was my reasoning too. I taught gifted elementary students and they were required to take state writing tests. Besides loving to teach creative writing, I was required to inform students how to write expository and narrative essays. I taught them detailed language skills and how to use expressive, sensory words to show the reader the action in their stories. If the only words they could think of was a four letter word it meant they were lacking in vocabulary skills. I used to do a cute exercise to teach dialogue tags called “Said is dead!” They were allowed to use said once in their story and after that it was DEAD! Then they had to come up with other words to replace it. (Example: retorted, gasped, sputtered etc.). We used to have vocabulary contests and word winners each week. The children became incredible writers because they discovered that synonyms could be their best friends.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I originally responded to this post with a long winded statement because I agree with you. However, since for some reason I haven’t been able to post to your site lately this comment might not work either and so I will write a short comment instead.
    I don’t usually swear when I write because I don’t swear in real life either. Well, very often, nor do I hang around many people who do. The books I read are geared towards descriptive language not expletive words. The poetry group I volunteer for has a rule that swearing isn’t allowed in their poetry competitions since they perform in a variety of venues where it isn’t appropriate because often the younger siblings attend their poetry slams. My other response was much better…. but my point is, that a good writer can get his/her point across using descriptive language. Swearing isn’t necessary.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks, Lesley! I’m sorry if your comments haven’t been going through. I found one of yours from a looong time ago still in Pending but haven’t seen any since. 😦

      I think that’s also why I’d consider censoring language: general audience acceptability.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have written over 60 (mostly successful) plays and only once used the f-bomb – and that was for a very specific reason. I think that putting swear words in a script because “that’s how people talk” is a cop-out. I’ve had audience members ask “What was that extraordinary beautiful music that played?” when there was silence. I’ve had audience members wanting to take me to court for have naked teenagers on stage (when they were full clothed…) etc. etc. It’s not necessary to swear – just get creative! My elementary teacher used to say “Hells bells and buggy wheels” when he was annoyed. I used to think it was very very naughty swearing (and still do!)

    Liked by 2 people

  9. In my first parish, some 37 years ago, a very pious member made appointment to talk with me. She stunned me by telling me I had “sworn” in the pulpit. (Since I had worked part-time in construction before attending seminary, I considered this quite possible.) I was mortified and asked what offensive word I had used. The response: “darn.”

    I inquired about what was offensive about that, she responded, “if you say darn today, you may say damn tomorrow.” I attempted to graciously explain to her that even that very verb was in the Scriptures and had an appropriate use… even in a pulpit.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My husband rarely swears so when he does it makes quite an impact …. so in fact, very similar to what Stephen was saying. For me, well yes, I’m ashamed to say that I do ummm sometimes swear … and in my book, because it’s about me, there are a few rude words in it, but not many as I’m loathe to offend; but I am writing about how I responded to various situations etc and sometimes, just occasionally they may have led to an expletive. I think in the editing, I might have a bit of a count now, this has certainly made me think. Lovely post! Big hugs! Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think context is key here. If you’re writing about people who never swear, then fine. If you’re writing about people who, in a normal context for that type of person, would swear then you’ve got to use the right vocabulary. This isn’t about the writer, or the reader, it’s about your character. I use swearing in my writing but only where it feels right. Mild words like piss & shit crop up quite a lot, but stronger stuff has made it in now and again. I have to admit that even I hesitate when going full Potty Mouth and think, “is this appropriate for my character in this scene?”
    Diana Wallace Peach did a really good post on this subject a couple of years ago. She’s generally a non-swearer but writes fantasy tales that cover violence, intrigue and abuse so she’s had to come to terms with the fact that coarse language would – should – be used by her characters. It’s a good read: https://mythsofthemirror.com/2016/03/04/those-darn-cussing-characters/

    Liked by 3 people

    • I love Diana! Thanks for the link.

      And… I agree with you about the character bit, but also think the reader is important.

      I HAVE gotten around it a bit by deciding that slang will evolve and coming up with horrible swears of the future in the Skinwalkers series.

      Liked by 1 person

      • This whole topic reminds me of the award that forms part of the Wikkit Gate in “Life, The Universe & Everything”. Although, I’ve just read that the US version was censored! How ironic!
        From Wikipedia:
        “This book is the only one in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series to have been censored in its US edition. The word “asshole” is replaced with the word “kneebiter”, and the word “shit” is replaced with “swut”. Possibly the most famous example of censorship is in Chapter 22, in which the UK edition mentions that the “Rory” is an award for “The Most Gratuitous Use of the Word ‘Fuck’ in a Serious Screenplay”. In the US edition, this was changed to “Belgium”…”

        Liked by 1 person

          • Weirdly enough, when that book came out I was 14 and the mention of that ‘Award’ was probably the first time I’d read ‘fuck’ in one of my books. But the word I was more concerned about was “gratuitous” – I had to look it up & then I got the joke (because it’s a completely gratuitous use of “fuck” in a humorous novel!)
            Using ‘Belgium’ instead is quite funny though, so both versions work, albeit on different levels. 🙂

            Liked by 2 people

          • Yes, knowing the characters, the genre, the readership is important. You don’t expect (or need) strong language in stuff like Hitch-Hikers or Discworld, so when it’s used it has to be valid & for a purpose (even if that purpose is to obliquely criticise gratuitous use!). Talking of Discworld, Terry Pratchett had one character that would appear to curse by saying “Millennium hand and shrimp” – almost like they were suffering from Tourette’s. And Diana came up with ‘soft/spoof’ cursing (that I helped her with – some of the prototypes were WAY stronger than she realised!)
            Also, you can find some really interesting bits of science if you Google ‘people who swear a lot’ 😉

            Liked by 1 person

  12. I’ve seen teens that use the ‘F’ word twice each sentence… usually at some thrash metal venue I was accompanying my boys to. It really depends on the characters. As for an omniscient third person narrator, I can’t imagine a need to swear unless you feel the term “feces” doesn’t have enough impact.

    I seldom swear in my writing. There just doesn’t seem to be much of a need…

    Liked by 1 person

      • I attended one show with a Swedish vocalist performing. She started talking normally but caught herself and started inserting the ‘F’ word each sentence.

        Surprisingly, the kids were pretty nice, there. I fell down a couple of times (sitting at a bar stool for six hours will do that because my foot fell asleep). And, they were picking me up, calling me “sir” and asking if I was okay. Fortunately, my boys can attend those venues on their own, now…

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I’ve written fantasy in the past and decided to come up with my own set of swear words that sound strong but aren’t officially bad. It was a lot of fun, actually! When using swear words in stories set in our world, probably less is more. Then the times those words are used, they’re more striking. The more I think about it, the use of these words should be like using any other words: Use them if they’re necessary. Don’t use them if they’re not. Don’t force them in. Don’t leave them out if there’s no other way to communicate the meaning you’re trying to get across.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Nothing like enjoying a wonderful plot and having an F-bomb explode all over the place. I lose a bit of respect for the book, especially if it’s incessant. I know people swear, just as in real life, when swearing occurs there better be a %#*!! reason for it.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. I am so glad you wrote a post on this!! I haven’t ever written anything to publication, but I have had this internal dialogue before while reading books. I like that you pointed out the classics that do not use an abundance of profanity. I think something that resonates with readers is authenticity- so if we are authentic to ourselves it will come through characters and our writing. Thank you TONS for posting this. I loved hearing your thoughts & reading the comments too!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. This is such an eye opener! I had no idea people felt this way about swearing!
    I swear- a lot! In everyday language and I probably reflect that in my writing.
    Art, all art, is a reflection of the creator and their experiences so I probably swear a lot more when talking about myself and my life than when I am writing for a character that hasn’t had the same upbringing I have had.
    I don’t agree that swearing is used to ‘shock the reader’ it’s just a word, all words have varying degrees of impact, screamed has more impact than said for example.
    I also completely disagree that it shows lack of imagination and creativity- you should hear some of the foul shit I come up with 😉
    Though if you’re using fuck 28 times a page- perhaps you should get a dictionary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 😀 This sounds like you may be in the minority for the printed word, though I highly suspect you’re in the majority for most of the population.

      Also… I ought to have posed my question specifically to whether one is British or American. I understand that we’re more uptight about it on this side of the pond…. though less concerned with violence.

      I don’t like the gratuitous violence, by the way, but it’s all over our movies.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I’ve been brooding on this all day, I honestly have never given a second thought to whether a particular word should be a swear word or not.

    I have heard that us Brits have a reputation for being more liberal with the more colourful side of the English Language so that may be it.

    I have a lot of trouble with explicit violence and don’t see the need for a gritty play by play, the cause of and aftermath of any fight, are much more important to move a story along than the actual fight itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I had to pop over and check out your post, Chelsea. I think we have to be true to our characters, but it is possible to be gritty without using swears. One way around it, which I’ve used, is to say the character cursed, instead of actually having them curse. For example: Kara spat a string of oaths that turned the butler’s ears scarlet. Or: Sam stubbed his toe and cursed at his clumsiness. Good luck with the dilemma. I’m certain you’ll make a good choice. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Pingback: WINNER of the Third Weekly Terrible Poetry Contest | Chelsea Ann Owens

  20. I think swearing is overrated and I think it’s too often a substitute for good dialogue. And in real life I think it’s a substitute for some people’s lack of vocabulary. That’s not to say that a character – or a real person – can’t/shouldn’t swear from time to time, but maybe just not all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

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