Thursday, April 7, 2011

Writing and the F-bomb

I'm featuring that nasty four-letter word during the A to Z Blogging Challenge because of the controversy I've seen, in a number of genres and by a number of writers, about explicit and/or vulgar language in written and online materials.

Let's face it. Some of us use colorful language. Others of us curse. Still others of us possess a strong case of garbage-mouth.
  • Using Colorful language is saying, "Oh, poop!" when you step in a pile of excrement.
  • Cursing is saying, "Oh, cr*p!" when you step in poop.
  • Using garbage mouth is saying, "S**t, s**t, s**t, s**t, s**t!" when you step in a pile of crap.
To many of us (here in the U.S. of A, anyway), using the F-bomb is the ultimate in garbage mouth. To most women, there's a four-letter word that's even worse. To the rest of us, neither of these words is anything other than a normal part of our vocabularies. After all, the f-bomb is the only word I know that can be used as a noun or verb and can be modified into use an adjective or adverb.

But when is it acceptable to use bad language in your writing?

I, personally, seldom swore until I got divorced. For some reason, all that angst and anger released a vocabulary I didn't acquire, unlike everyone else, in childhood. I discovered the f-bomb when I saw it written on the bathroom wall [at school] in high school. Having never encountered it before, I looked it up in the dictionary. Not finding it, I asked my mother for the definition. After choking, then laughing 'til she cried when I explained why I wanted to know, she gave me the definition. I didn't find an urge, need, or reason to use it for 20-some years.

Do I say that nasty word? No! Never! (Not.)

Seriously, I do use it on occasion ... But only when I'm alone or with a person whom I know very well and know he or she won't be offended. I don't use it at work. I don't use it in public. I don't use it in my writing.

Sometimes, however, a character of mine will use the word because it's part of his or her vocabulary. But only if he or she would be using it in real life. When I'm in line at the registry of motor vehicles, for example, I hear the word a lot. I imagine I'd hear it used quite frequently in the hallowed halls of a police station. An exotic dancer in line behind me at the bank used it every other word during a cell phone conversation.

I'm not one for gratuitous vulgarity when I write (or read) and, personally, find many stand-up comics both irritating and crude because they weave nasty words into their shows to get laughs instead of telling good jokes. On the other hand, when used to illustrate a character, and depict him or her realistically, I find it appropriate.

Your thoughts?


  1. I was with a group of women the other night, and they had tried to write a collaborative story, each contributing a chapter. When it got to be Ellen's turn, she "dropped the F bomb" all over the place, according to the other women, and the project ground to a halt.

    Know your audience. Lots of books use foul language, but those readers aren't bothered by it. Some expect bad characters to use bad language.

  2. My father's a sailor so my propensity for swearing is genetic. In my writing, I do occasionally use foul language but only when I think the story calls for it or a particular character would use it.

  3. @Katie: You summed it up nicely: know your audience. I'm constantly surprised by people.

    @ MJ: My mother wasn't a sailor, but she passed the gene on, as well.

    In all cases, if you know your audience, your use of foul language (or not) will be appropriate.

  4. If it's appropriate for the character and story, I'll use the F word and others. They can be very effective when sprinkled in the right places.

  5. It's a tool. Like any tool you use it when deemed necessary. I rarely use it in speech but as soon as my main character opened his mouth it was like he had tourettes.

    But there really is something very satisfying about dropping one now and again. I really don't mind it in books - hate to hear it on the streets - but don't mind it when another adult uses it in conversation. How complex we are.

  6. I write YA Fantasy, so I try to keep any profanity to a minimum. However, minor profanity did make it in, mostly on the part of the bad guys. No "F" bombs. It's something I've struggled with a little bit, but I only used it in places where it sounded lame to try to use a filler word. Tricky, tricky. Especially, as I'm a bit of a sailor in real life.

  7. I know I'm one of the few, but I like to avoid using/reading/listening to profanity. I've heard it all my life, and used to be a potty mouth, but have since decided to leave it behind. I admire authors whose characters are 'real' without using that particular tactic (I should start keeping track of them).

    Like Shannon, I can occasionally get myself to follow a schedule, but not always. But I find it helpful to keep track of ideas when I have a notebook or pen and paper available so I don't forget things when I finally have a moment to write.

    I'm number 879 on the A-Z hop list. It's nice to 'meet' you. :)