To Swear or Not to Swear... Who the fuck cares?
A Brief History of Swear Words
I'm not going to bore you with the etymology of swear words, but it is important to note that most of the words considered as curse or swear words have Germanic and/or Scandinavian origins and were spoken mostly by regular, everyday people. For the sake of time and brevity, let's agree that the problem with swear words is who's associated with using them. It really is more an issue of class, than an issue of language acquisition and/or acumen.
This is the post that set it all off. Someone posted this on Twitter and @J.Motoki posted the question to "#WritingCommunity I'm curious if you agree with this post. Do you use swear words in your work?"
The thread blew up and caught my attention. I didn't respond to the thread because I knew I'd be writing about it on my blog, but let me share some of the responses from Twitter.
Michaelanne Sux At Life But Is Good At Write
Replying to @J_Motoki
There is classicism built into the politics of swearing. That meme referring to what is largely [working-class] slang/swears as “lazy” is more charged of a word than “fuck.”
Replying to @J_Motoki
Bad and lazy writers use them everywhere. Good writers find other words to use instead. Great writers use the swears in exactly the right way to make an impact.
I loved both of these replies. As you can see, writers have a lot to say about the use of swear words in their work.
Words are words until they become reasons for excluding some and admitting others.
The intersectionality of language, education, socio-economic class, access, and perception makes this question so fascinating. Words are words. I don't allow one to mean more than another based on someone else's standards or misgivings. As a writer, all the words in all the languages are at my disposal. If I can make them work. If my characters need them to fully express themselves or their emotions, then they have access to them.
Why is the word copulate better than the word fuck? If my female protagonist asks her lover to come over and fornicate, does it negate the fact they are planning to fuck? Not at all. Verbosity is only recommended if you're being paid by the word.
Three Interesting Swear Word Facts About Me
- I don't use profanity in my daily conversation because I'm not an effective curser. People tell me I sound like a white, soccer mom. I am not white. None of my girls ever played soccer. So, I don't curse... out loud. 😈
- In my head... that's a different story. In my head, I curse like a sailor. I sound amazing when I let the F-bomb drop, or call the guy riding his breaks in front of me a mothafucka, I sound like Audre Lorde in her poem, Power.
- I use swear words in my writing because when I write, I'm my most authentic self.
This particular post took an offense with the word, fuck. I can't imagine why this word would cause someone to jump on their high horse. Not unless... nooooo? Maybe, just maybe they're sexually repressed and/or inadequately equipped to engage in such strenuous and adventurous sexual activity as required when fucking 😂. I may be wrong, but I doubt it.
I digress. Here's the real reason I have a problem with that pretentious post. It insinuates that those who use profanity in their work and/or daily lives are lazy and ignorant. I'll admit to being a lot of things, but lazy is not one of them. I'll also admit to being ignorant of a lot of things, but words and writing? Not even a little bit, I know them intimately. The tone of that post is one of superiority. "I'm better than you because I don't debase my writing by using the word fuck or any version of it."
I Call Bullshit!
Refraining from using 'fuck' in writing does not make a superior writer. Dropping 'fuck' in your book like hot potatoes doesn't make you a lazy, ignorant writer.
It really boils down to style, voice, and audience. And here is where the sociological phenomenon of intersectionality comes into play. As a caveat, I'm not saying all writers who choose not to use swear words in their writing are pretentious assholes catering to other pretentious assholes.
However; I would like to point out how ascribing to the school of thought that says writers who use the word fuck are lazy and ignorant in association with the belief that only lower-class, uneducated, commoners use profanity creates an "overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage." Writers are shoved into one of three categories: literary, upmarket, and commercial.
One of these categories is intended for readers who may ascribe to the school of thought that says profanity is used for the lower-class who are uneducated and ignorant. This means writers who use the word fuck to talk about sex, will not have access to this category of literature or this class of people.
Why does it matter? Honestly, I don't know that it does; except it probably does. Matter, that is. It matters because if using the most commonly used word in any language means I'm denied access to anything as a writer in my career, then there are an "overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage."
Literary fiction tends to emphasize complex language and the characters’ internal development over a rigidly structured plot. The message and themes are often multifaceted and open to several interpretations due to the intricate metaphors and motifs weaved throughout. In some respects, this may prove distancing to the reader who won’t have access to the plot conventions that typically act as guideposts to understanding in genre fiction. (Litreactor.com)
In the end, what does it matter if a writer uses the word fuck in their work? For every type of writer, there is a reader. It is not for one group to decide for the whole of all writers that using the F-word is a sign of laziness and ignorance. Nor does anyone have the right to #swear_wordshame writers and relegate them to only commercial or upmarket literary categories of writing. If readers want to experience...
... offered in literary fiction while reading about the joy, debasement, and/or social commentary of fucking; then so be it. Swear. Don't swear. Who the fuck really cares? As long as you're staying true to yourself, your characters, and your story; write whatever your heart tells you to.
Remember, writing is a journey and when the Universe sprinkles Her wisdom along your path, be grateful. Live one enchanted moment at a time and stay present. Until next time; be brave, be beautiful, and be enchanting.