For $%*@*’s sake – is there any need for swearing? Warning: (obviously) contains swearing #WritingCommunity

swearing

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!

 

37 comments

  1. I recognise twitter is colloquial but I flinch when I see f”’ing written down UNLESS it is in a book where the character speaks like that. I’m someone else who thinks it is often an inappropriate adjective.There are other ways of suggesting disapproval.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for commenting, Julie. There certainly are, as long as the way the author chooses to do that is authentic to the character. If a character would swear in certain situations, then that character should swear in those situations.

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  2. Alison as usual, you’re spot on.
    Yes, I swear and our adult children swear a lot. But what counts is the characters in the story. I write about truckers, soldiers, low-lifes, bar-flies and they all cuss, curse, and swear. I’d expect nothing else.
    Few of my characters would own a thesaurus let alone use one.
    Thanks

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Chuck 🙂 Exactly – it would be ridiculous for some characters not to swear. I really hate the snobbery around it too, that asserts that people who swear are stupid. Sometimes, only a really good swear will do!

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  3. I think a good swear word at the right place in a book can have a strong effect, but having grown up in a time when the ‘f’ work was NEVER used, I have an aversion to it. However, as I’ve learned from my soldier son, it’s the most common word in military lingo!

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  4. I swear like a trooper and have always done so (in the various languages I have been exposed to) My mother believed in washing the culprit’s mouth out with soap. When she was 70 she and my father visited us in Texas and went away with the addition of Aw Shit in their vocabulary. It was aired quite frequently including when my mother had become rather demented, but still somehow managed to retain this phrase to use in hospital when things did not suit her standards!

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  5. How ridiculous! I was not brought up to swear willy nilly and there’s one word I hate using, BUT I write – hopefully realistically – and,an antagonist or victim are hardly going to be polite when punches are thrown or other violence is involved. One lady I know – who is religious – bought one of my books, while saying: “I do hope there’s no swearing in it!.” As it was an anthology of short stories, I said there most definitely was. Fortunately, she still bought it .

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  6. I’m just doing the final edits on my WIP before heading to the editor. One of the characters just explained how close she was to God and that she wanted to put temptation behind her. She then goes on to use the word “fuck” in the next sentence. It was completely in character but I did change it for a different word. (I should add the character is dead and has been in heaven for fourteen years and is now guiding another soul to his eternal home.) The word seemed a little disingenuous. Enjoyed your post. Sally Cronin sent me.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m with you, Alison. There may be situations where people shouldn’t use it, but it’s the way many people talk. Writing needs to be authentic.

    My all-time favorite parent-teacher conference laugh came from this beauty: The teacher (I was a teacher’s aide at the time) was telling the parent about the child’s colorful language at school. The parent responded with, “Yeah, I don’t know where in the hell he gets that goddamn, son of a bitch language from.” It took everything in my power not to begin rolling on the floor with laughter from his obliviousness.

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  8. Well said! I never swore at all until I started at uni [back in the 70’s]. And I stopped swearing when the Offspring was born [80’s]. Now we both swear when appropriate, as do some of my characters. But not all. Some are more straight-laced, and you can tell who’s talking by /how/ they express themselves. Others delight in being shocking, and you can recognize them as well.

    As writers of fiction, we know that to bridge the gap between reality and fiction, the fiction has to ‘feel’ real in little ways that readers recognize, even if only subliminally. Thus, whether a reader swears or not, she would have to live in a nunnery to avoid coming into contact with people who do.

    If swearing is realistic for a particular character, or in a particular setting, then yes, it should be appropriate for the written word as well.

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  9. A lady after my own heart! I swear in my books. Not a lot – well not by my standards anyway. But if I am describing a situation where I would have sworn, I bloody well swear when I’m retelling it. My publisher is also an author, a memoirist too, and I got my first Kindle so that I could read her first book, in which she talks about a cockerel they had, called F*ck. A year later she had produced a second edition, in which his name was changed.
    On editing my second memoir she recommended changing my ‘Bloody hell!’ to ‘Blooming heck’! WTF? I soon told her where to stick that suggestion. i don’t think I’d said blooming heck since I turned 4. 🙂

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  10. Me again… The word ‘gratuitous’ has not appeared, and it is when swearing and sex is over-used, that the writing becomes boring…As mentioned above, I use it when it is needed to make a person or scene authentic.Otherwise, less is more… One, well-placed swear-word, can sometimes be most amusing..

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