I never, ever once swore in front of my mum. Not once, even as an adult. She would have been horrified, even though she swore. My children (well, they’re 23 and 21) swear in front of me all the time. I swear in front of them. I’m sure some people reading this think I’m a terrible mother.
I saw a tweet the other day (bloody Twitter, causes me so much stress) asserting that using swearing in your writing means you’re too ignorant to think of another word. This lady was implying that those who swear, or whose characters swear, are stupid.
This made me f#$king furious.
Firstly – swearing doesn’t make you stupid. This is not a brag, but I have a master’s degree. One of my foul-mouthed children is studying for a master’s at King’s College, London. The other is studying veterinary medicine at the Royal Veterinary College. They are kind, compassionate, thoughtful, caring, wonderful people. And they are certainly not stupid.
Secondly – as a writer, you need to use the right word, for your character and for the situation. Not the most fancy word. Or the longest word. If your character is about to be murdered, for example, are they going to say ‘Goodness me’? If they have just found out a deadly secret, or had their inheritance stolen, been shot in the knee, or are being burned at the stake, they’re not going to say, ‘Oh dear, what a calamity.’ They’re going to swear.
And that goes for historical fiction too. Street urchins, prostitutes, shopkeepers, manservants and working class women swore. So did the gentry. And the clergy. And everyone. Apparently the first recorded use of the word ‘fart’ is from 1250! ‘Fuck’ was used in English in the fifteenth century. ‘Shit’ is one of the oldest words in existence.
Swearing has its place. Sometimes, the most filthy word is definitely the right word. If you’d been at my house on election night, the air was blue. And it made me feel much better! And as writers, we need to make sure that the words we use are the right words. Adding a ‘shit’ or a ‘fuck’ to your manuscript doesn’t make you stupid. If it’s the right word, then it’s the right word.
So put down that fucking thesaurus!