Monday, October 13, 2008

Do You Eat With That Mouth?

What’s your stance on using bad language in your writing? Is it totally off-limits, or do you consider it on a case-by-case basis?

Last week, my writing group had a spirited discussion about the granddaddy of all swear words, the F-Bomb. It’s ubiquitous these days; everyone from little kids to the vice-president finds a way to work it into conversation. Personally, I like to use it like pepper: sparingly and only in certain circumstances. Especially when I’m writing for a general audience, I prefer to stay on the PG side of things. (In case you didn’t know, a PG-13 film is limited to one or two instances of the word; any more, and the film generally gets an R.)

Bad language can turn readers off and limit your audience, but in some instances, swearing can feel unavoidable. Soldiers in the middle of a war, for instance, are unlikely to be using “darn” and “golly.” This illustrates profanity’s effectiveness in characterization. For example, do all of your characters over 40 speak like church-goers? What about a female octogenarian who swears like a sailor?

Like several of my friends, I was raised to believe that swearing indicates a lack of intelligence and creativity. The only time I dropped the F-bomb around my dad, he turned to me and said, “I send you to school for this?” To this day, I mind my verbal P’s and Q’s in public—behind closed doors, all bets are off.

Besides discouraging me from swearing, Dad’s other cornerstone of guidance was that I should never take a job as a cocktail waitress. Dad was a bartender. As I reached the end of my teens, he told me, “I catch you packing a tray, and I’ll break your legs.” Clearly, some sentences don’t require profanity to be memorable.
Photo courtesy of Duchessa at

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