Thursday, July 21, 2011

Profanity: How do you feel about it?

The heroine of my work in progress is an agoraphobic mage and a native New Yorker. She has a lot of pent of rage and she swears quite a bit. Some of this is the habit of lifetime, and some of it is a way to express a visceral feeling without losing herself so completely that she sets fire to New York City.
James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano on HBO. A swearing king.
I’m also a native New Yorker, and I swear a lot, too. Since having children, I’ve mended my ways a bit (only a bit) and I’m pretty sure my kids think, “Dude!” is a terrible word, because it’s what I say when someone cuts me off in traffic now. This is a far cry from the two word phrase I used to use, which referenced the sucking of male genitalia and things one shouldn’t do with one’s mother. 
Personally, I love swearing. Maybe it wouldn’t matter to me so much if gutteral cries of rage were in vogue, but people seem to expect us to use language--except--if I’m in the middle of a totally non-rational state of pissedoffedness (my word, you’re welcome to use it) then the last thing I’m up for is a little rational debate. 
So how do you feel about swearing? Does it bother you? What about in fiction or in films? I feel like there are people who swear and people who don’t, so I’m cool with characters being true to themselves, but I also don’t write Young Adult books or make children’s movies. 
Is swearing the failure to make full use of language, the last refuge of the irrational mind, a bad habit? Or is it a fun part of the language which allows us to express ugly feelings? 
You tell me.


  1. Fun part the language that lets me express my ugly feelings. That and allows for less holes in the wall. And well, damn it, 'fuck' is just so much fun to say!

  2. I'm going to say all of the above. I'm all for the swearing if it's true to the character. In my UF I'm working on creating some new expletives.

  3. Personally I swear like a sailor (except I didn't swear at all when I was in NY, I saved it up for when I got home to Toronto and then the air turned blue) My husband refuses to swear if I'm around, but my sons tell me he does swear a lot if I'm not. And my sons swear a lot too. All their friends swear; I life beside a high school and the kids that walk past my house swear up a storm too. So to write a character that doesn't swear seems ... fake. Forced.

    So I let my characters swear. Some more than others. But they're also guys in tough situations so I can't see them not swearing, it would be out of character for them. Having said that, in honor of my husband's non-swearing-around-me rule, I'm writing a character right now refuses to swear and it's giving me conniptions trying to figure out what he'd say when he gets ticked off without him coming off too wimpy.

  4. "Dude!" is a horrible word.

    On the rest: proper swearing can be an artform. At the same time, it is also tedious to read in dialog. Or to listen to, for that matter. I'm not saying it is a bad habit, but that it is generally just boring when overblown.

    On the other hand, I live in a college town with a metric assload of annoying, pampered, can't-pull-their-pants-up, entitled fucktards. Make of that what you will.

  5. Leah, you sweet thing, I cannot imagine you swearing. This is a mindbender for me. Must think on this, lol.

  6. David, "Dude!" is as close to "You fucking idiot" as I allow myself in the car with the kids. It has taken some doing to reach this place.

    Also, your comment made me howl for a good thirty seconds. Make of that what you will. :)

  7. Jenn, you've slept in bed next to me.. You and I are close sista! LOL I'm a cross between a sailor and a truck driver. I could make Tony Soprano blush! In regards to writing, I think it works when it is applicable. When it's part of that character or even when a character who wouldn't normally swear does it. I personally love authors who stay true, not only to their own voice, but to their characters voice. We should NEVER censor dialogue, that much I do know. And, if cursing ends up in your narrative 3rd person voice, then it should belong there and go with the flow. It should fit. With everything there has to be balance.

    PS: It's a proven fact that saying FUCK is therapeutic.. it's a stress reliever.. LOL

    Love ya!

  8. @WookiesGirl I believe Fuck, word, act, or otherwise is considered therapeutic, as in a, um, stress-reliever.

  9. Let's just say I was more relieved than appalled when my kids became teenagers and started dropping the occasional F-bomb, because it meant I didn't have to be so paranoid about letting something slip myself. ;)