Fuck. Shit. Asshole. Bitch. Bastard. Jesus. Damn. Hell.
There will be profanity in this post. Those of you offended, take your wimpy ass to another blog.
For those of you that know me well, it’s no secret I’m not afraid of profanity. In fact, I embrace it. I’m giddy when I learn new ways to curse, swear, or whatever you want to call it and sometimes, I make up my own, combining words, both offensive and inoffensive to stock up my arsenal.
Why? Perhaps because my father, a good and loving parent, knew nearly every nasty word in the book and tossed them out freely. Oh, we knew not to repeat them. If we did, we got “The Battery” and that was enough of a deterrent for my sore tongue.
But in my childhood home, the swear words that got us in the most hot water were not your more common profanities. My mother would let a goddamn and a shit pass without comment now and then, but utter the words goof, stupid, retard, dink, idiot, dumb or that horrific c-word (hint: rhymes with “hunt”) and you’d get such a talking to…and then you had to lick the battery. I got away with calling my brother an asshole, but call him a butt-muncher or a dink, and man, did I get a blast of hell.
My mother believed, as do I, it’s not so much the word that you use, but how you use it. Those words were meant to belittle someone, to make them feel “not good enough” and that was unacceptable for her children to do. We could get into the why’s of that, but really, you don’t want to be here all day (or night), so we won’t. The awfulness of these words were so hammered into my psyche, that to this day I flinch if I hear them. I rarely use them myself, even when I’m really pissed. The c-word? Can’t even type it. See how our “training” works? I use a lot of profanity daily, and yet, my kids aren’t out there cursing their little heads off. Training. I took the time to explain why these words were unacceptable for them to say and didn’t make a big deal of it when they did use them. Take the taboo away, and it’s not so tempting. Do they swear when I’m not around? You show me a kid that doesn’t at some point.
When I got to an age that the battery no longer bothered me, possibly because I had no nerve endings left in my tongue, and the amusement of it had faded for my dad, I let loose with all the profanity I could muster. Oh, the words I used could make a trucker, sailor, and a construction worker blush. They did actually. But only rarely did I ever use these words to hurt someone. I won’t say I didn’t ever use them in an insulting or derogatory way. I’m no angel. I mean, you load a 16 year old up with the proper weaponry to shut that snotty little bitch that thinks she’s better than everyone up, she’s going to use it. But I had to be pretty angry to do so.
The truth is I love our language. Period. I love every bit of it, including the profanities. I learn a new word, and I use the shit out of it, even if it’s not obscene. I just enjoy words.
When I became “serious” about writing, as in willing to work my ass off in order to publish my work, I realized that not everyone appreciated the colorful language I so loved. Some people actually became quite angry that I felt I ‘needed’ to use such horrible language. To them I say: Suck it up. Bunch of whiny jerks. I’m not the first to love profanity and I certainly won’t be the last. Words such as these are only as powerful as taboo makes them because essentially, fuck is a word just as window or dog is a word. The difference? No one blushes when you say window or dog, unless you’re announcing that you caught them dancing naked with the dog through said window.
Profanities are a source of emotional release. I stub my toe on the bed for the second time in an hour and “ow” just ain’t gonna cut it. “Fuck” or a string of unrelated obscenities (which is usually what comes out) releases a whole lot of that pain. Sure, it’s psychological. But those of you that yell “Fiddlesticks” or “Jeepers”, you know what you really mean and so do I. You might as well let the swear out and be done with it. Believe me, it’s much less taxing on your brain. And it feels so good.
Swear words are and always will be an integral part of human language. Profanity is universal. Every language ever studied, whether spoken by millions or by a remote little tribe, has contained some type of “forbidden” words. These words exist because we create them. They serve a function. At some point, someone said “Oh, that hurts my delicate sensibilities.” And then another person said, “Well, such words are to be expected from a commoner.” And that was repeated until someone decided that profanity represented a lower class of person, with inadequate intelligence and breeding. I’ll give you intelligence and breeding…
Before you all say that decent folks don’t need to include profanity in their books to elicit the right reaction, stop. I’ve heard it before. I still don’t agree.
Let me turn your attention to one of the oldest pieces of literature we’re all familiar with; the Bible. Oh yes, if you want profanity, the Bible has it in spades. Perhaps not curse words we’re familiar with nowadays, but they’re in there. For words, we’re familiar with, I give you II Kings 18:27 (KJV) that uses two profanities:
But Rabshakeh said unto them, Hath my master sent me to thy master, and to thee, to speak these words? Hath he not sent me to the men which sit on the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?
While “dung” might not be considered profane to you or me, back in the day, it was. So were many more words used in scripture. Is it wrong? No. Those ancient scribes wanted to emphasize or color certain bits and these words worked more effectively than other, less interesting words.
I suppose I should pause here to say that I’m not making excuses for my use of swear words. Basically, I don’t feel there’s anything to excuse. This is a sort of rant, aimed at a few bits I’ve read, heard, or comments directed toward me that insinuate I’m not a good person for using profanity in my writing. I want to put some perspective on how we judge each other on something as silly as swear words. Any phrase can be hurtful, offending and damaging, with or without these words. It all depends on the speaker’s intent.
And this is a tangent, but for those of you that think substituting “Golly” for “God” is a pure and sweet way of not cursing. Think again. I did the research. Guess what? Golly is a compaction of “God’s body”, and as such, used to be considered a profanity (many moons ago) because using it was still taking the Lord’s name in vain. So. There you have it. Cursing and you didn’t even know it.Oh golly.
And I often wonder why Hell is considered profane and yet, Heaven isn’t? Why is using God profane and Satan or Devil is not? The intent. But we become all sensitive with the religious words, don’t we? I mean, I’ve used heaven while having some pretty obscene intentions. Yes, I have. I’ve used “God” when saying something that had only positive connotations, so…
Why is one word obscene, while another isn’t? If the word is not meant to hurt or insult, then why is it worse than another word used in the same way?
Once a word is closely associated with a particularly nasty bodily function, such as poop or pee, or a taboo act, like sex, or a “private” body part, like vagina, penis or anus, it creeps into taboo territory. When used in a manner that is derogatory or insulting, it firmly takes its place and is no longer considered acceptable in polite conversation.
For an example, I give you pussy. Use pussy when referring to a furry little nightmare that shreds your curtains and kills the mice, and no one cares. Use it to describe another potentially furry bit and suddenly you’re obscene. Or, why do some consider pecker or dick to be profane and yet tally-whacker and sausage are not? Because the former have been used in a derogatory manner one too many times. Just wait, if enough men are called a sausage in an insulting way, we will have to rename our second favorite breakfast meat to spare polite company.That’s my goal anyway.
My point is that profanities are only as powerful as we make them. They’ll always be fun to use, because they’re fun to say. So are “salsa” and other inoffensive words. For the most part, they’re short, easy to spell and roll off the tongue with ease. But since no one has associated salsa with shit, piss or semen, it’s still safe to use. And I use it often.
The intent is the key factor here. So if I were to say “Did you piss your pants?” Piss means urinate and really, is not meant offensively. However, if I were to say “Piss off” people get all gaspy and shit. What if I said “Get lost, you worthless loser.”? Is that offensive? No profane words used there. Not one curse. It’s the intent behind those words. Personally, I’d rather have someone tell me to fuck off or piss off than call me a worthless loser. Just saying.
In terms of novels, which are really the point of this rambling mess, profanity is a part of our daily lives. When depicting real people, profanity is a natural part of speech. How can you not use one or two? What’s that? Because you choose not to? Great. Good for you. I choose to use them. Does that make you better than me? Hell no. It means you create characters that don’t swear. Mine do. Big fucking deal.
Do my characters swear when it’s not needed? I don’t think so. Believe it or not, I weigh the use of every profanity I write. Is it needed? Does it add anything? Is it more distracting than enhancing? If it takes the reader from the story, then it’s not used. If it adds flavor to my character or intensity to the scene or line of dialogue, I’m sure as shit going to use it. Those who are offended easily, you’ve been warned.
7 thoughts on “Profanity, And The Assholes Who Use It”
I don't cuss–other than in my books, or when I hurt myself very, very badly. It's a source of great amusement to a good friend of mine who was stunned the one time I let the colorful metaphors fly.I don't care if other people cuss, but it bugs me when they do it to get a reaction.
The use of swearwords is such an integral part of human life in any culture, that people who do not swear choose to do so for a specific reason. It must be a strong reason, because avoiding to swear in surprising and uncomfortable situations (like a bird crapping on your face when you look up) goes hand in hand with repressing anger or frusration, and that has unavoidable psychological effects that ripple throughout that person's life. So my advice to writers who don't like using swearwords is this: not swearing is also part of characterization just like swearing is, and it better had a valid reason and some consequences for that character, otherwise it's just showing me you're afraid to type "fuck". And believe me, you don't want your work to tell me things about you as a person unintentionally.
By the way, I loved reading this blog post. I totally agree that it's the intention (and context) that hurt, not the actual word.
Maria: Agreed. When it's used simply to shock, it's obvious and it's annoying. In my "every day" life, I don't use words I know will upset people simply because I can or to get a rise out of them. And around the kids (I mean, I did have a daycare for three years) I am very careful how I speak and the profanity is tucked away, but for me it's an effort to do that. Vero: Bird shit? Ew.
Swearing can be poetic. It can have its own rhythm. There are two phrases in particula I'm partial too. 'What the bloody blue fuck?' Sometimes followed by 'was that' The other was said to me by an urchin on a liver pool street, apropos of nothing. I was just walking past him. He turned and said: 'Fuck off, wooden leg.' I mean, what was that about? I don't walk funny; my legs are my own, but the phrase has haunted me ever since. English culture is obsessed with sexual functions in it's swearing. I don't think that is true of all cultures. (I know a swedish joke to that effect)
damn, a few typos there along with the misplaced apostrophe. 'Shitting hell!'
Shitting hell? I've never heard that one. *plunks it to the top of the list* I'm using that often. Thanks, Mike. "Bloody blue fuck" is awesome. My dad creates all kinds of musical phrases that are very similar. It's like the more words you can string together with it, the better the effect, no? "Jesus shit" is a personal favorite of mine. Makes absolutely no sense, but when my oldest was two, she had a brief period (about a week) where she tested swear words and used them in ways that made no sense. "Oh Jesus shit, Mama! I love you this much." I believe is how it came out. But after that week, in which she horrified my mother by coming out with random obscenities no matter where they were, she just stopped saying them. My youngest hasn't used them yet. She'll ask "Why is shit a bad word?" and I'll explain that people don't like it and she shouldn't say it because they'll be uncomfortable.Her reply to that was, "People need to get a life. It's only a word. Not very good even. Not like shenanigans. That's a cool word." So there you have it.