There’s nothing like a good curse to stretch your lungs on a morning, is there? The odd expletive can be a satisfying release from stress and swearing is even known to relieve pain on occasion, but effing and blinding in public is still frowned upon by many people.
Disregarding the whole societal scorn, should you really be swearing as much?
I mean, I see teenagers who use profanity like it’s reciting a nursery rhyme. High-school going children all think it’s hip and totally cool to swear at anything that moves, even if it’s totally uncalled for. They will swear in public places, at school, during class, the cafeteria, even at home.
Now I’m all for freedom of expression and I really do think society as a whole needs to be more liberal in what we censor and what we don’t, the catch being there’s logic in the whole thing.
Writers and readers assume that words have meaning and value. The prevalence and nonchalant attitude surrounding profanity in western culture might have us believe that using hardy vocabulary is appropriate willy-nilly – after all, that’s how we live. But perhaps that is the best reason to pay the most attention to when and where and why we drop these words: the more they are used casually, the less impact they bring to the page. We are depriving these infamous words of their full assault value when we use them like grandparents giving chocolate candy to toddlers (and the results in both cases are disastrous).
The truth is that a lot of people are afraid to teach swear words, others are afraid to learn them, and many more abuse them to the point that they sound horrible and even offensive, NOT because these words are inherently bad or offensive, but because the people never learned how to use them properly.
“Hey, mind if I smoke?”
“No, mind if I fart?”
Profanity is no different from passing gas or peeing in a public pool. It’s repulsive. It offends people.
I know that you might be thinking that it doesn’t offend your friends. Right? Well, sure. A room full of people who are okay with cussing is a lot like a room full of people who don’t mind if you pick your nose and eat the snot, as long as they can do it, too. Of course it’s not offensive to people who cuss as much as you do.
But none of us live in a vacuum. If it was just about our friends then maybe cussing would be okay. But it’s not. We must interact with people from all walks of life. It’s part of being a responsible human being.
Everything I need to know about swearing I learned in college. This boils down to two principles. One, for the best effect, swear sparingly. Two, swear when the situation requires it for authenticity.
When I played volleyball in college, I played with a team that was expected to win the regional championship. We played hard, and we won. Our coach was even-keeled, level-headed, and never swore. I don’t know if that last part was on principle or the thought just didn’t cross his mind. I was the youngest on the team so I didn’t get much playing time, but I will never forget the day my six teammates slouched off the court for a time-out during a match. They knew they deserved an earful. We were playing a second-tier team, and we were losing. If we lost, we were out of the tournament – nowhere close to state finishers. Our coach knew this was ridiculous. “Damn it,” he started.
I remember the shock on everyone’s faces. I remember the team marching back to their places on the court and winning. Why? Because he let the d-word fly when he never had before. Because we knew then that our play had breached a level of catastrophic nonsense that required a sharp kick in our collective mental focus to restart us. He could have railed on and on about inspiration and perspiration and superheroes and butterfly wings, but none of that would have had any impact on us. Boy howdy did that “Damn it” get a response.
In non-fiction, regular swearing makes the author sound angry or cynical. This came to mind while I was reading Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. The content in the books was solid, but both authors peppered their writing with a noticeable amount of cursing. I get it: when you drop profanity in here and there it makes the writing sound chummy. Experts can dole out advice about how to make mediocre writing less mediocre (or whatever advice they’re toting) without the reader feeling as though the author is breaking their fingers and smashing their keyboard. But also, I’m reading this because you’re a professional, not because you’re my college roommate. I don’t want to know about your ability to swear, I want to know about your writing. You’re not supposed to be my bud. (I accept that their response to this opinion can be “Yes, but I’m laughing all the way to the fucking bank.” Fair enough, doesn’t change my mind.)
In blog posts, the occasional pops and snorts of colorful banter are reasonable, but again, if it’s the only tool the writer has other than an emoji, I’m going to pass. Why? Because, when used in excess, expletives are empty words. Even when we use them in conversations, they’re similar to the presentation-busters of “oh,” and “um” and “uh.” In other words, they suggest inexperience, lack of polish, and carelessness. When someone uses a lot of swear words, I assume they don’t have much to say.
My English teacher professor during my first year at college explained it this way in a discussion of Kurt Vonnegut’sSlaughterhouse Five: “If your leg gets blasted off in war, you’re not going to say ‘Oh, fudge.’ You’re going to scream “Fuuuuuucccckkkkk!’”
This isn’t about being offended. It’s about being distracted. A swear word (or lack thereof) should not detract from the action. Quite the opposite. It can and should be used to draw sharp attention and focus to a situation – either for authenticity or for shock. It can only be effective in writing if paired with the content and characters of it’s surroundings. If you’re writing in a war zone then using lollipops and ladybugs as verbal exclamations will make me close the book.
Putting it really simple-
So what it really comes down to is, Are you swearing because the situation demands it, or are you just another of those wannabe hipsters?
I’ll let you decide 🙂