In Defense Of Swearwords

If any of you were to meet me on the street, or in a professional setting of any kind, you would never be able to guess this, but I have a really dirty mouth.  I’m fond of saying that my monsters got their advanced vocabularies from me.  That includes some four letter words we try not to say in front of Grandma anymore.  Unless the Steelers are playing, then we are reminded that my mother in law was actually a sailor.

I cannot stand to hear someone say that swearwords show a level of ignorance in a person.  I am an intelligent, professional person with a wide vocabulary who sometimes thinks that fuck is the right word for the given situation.

I’m not here to tell you that you should start swearing in your everyday life.  I’ve found that swearing is like smoking; people who do it are offended by people who don’t, and people who don’t are grossed out by people who do.  I don’t smoke, though, that’s disgusting.

I am, however, here to make the point that maybe your characters should swear.  Here’s why.

It’s honest

It is not realistic for every one of your characters to have clean mouths all of the time, because that’s not how the world works.  It’s full of people swearing at other drivers, their spouses, their bosses, strangers on the bus.  Not everyone swears, and not everyone swears all the time.  But lots of people do, and if none of your characters do, it’s not going to feel as real.

It tells us about your character

Whether or not someone choses to swear does tell us things about that person.  But you can do so much more with it than that.  When someone chooses to swear is often far more telling.  For instance, someone who swears but has the good sense to not do it in front of the boss is a far different person than the one who doesn’t.  Likewise, the character that never swears, but then tells someone to go f*%& themselves is telling us a lot.

It can help set a scene

If you have a scene in church, or an office, or a child’s birthday party, there isn’t going to be a lot of swearing.  But there are a lot of places that can be more flexible.  Take, for instance, an ER.  If your mc is walking into the ER and she hears “Son of a bitch!” well, you know it’s an ER with a problem.  People don’t generally swear for mellow, pastel feelings.  I always say that it’s a strong word to convey a strong emotion.  Use that.

Our language is so versatile.  It’s colorful, it can be very subtle or very direct.  Don’t limit yourself by declaring certain words out of bounds.


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