I plan to start doing a discussion every Sunday (that I can). I love having discussions in comments, but it is also fun to do posts with other people, so if you are interested or have a discussion idea feel free to email me or leave a comment below! I would love to include you one week on the discussion.
Josh @ Nocturnal Confessions agreed to do this post with me because he had asked me what I thought about swearing in books. I decided to bring him into my actual post discussion because a) I love having discussions, b) he is writing a book right now, so it is definitely relevant to him, and c) I read lots of books so I have my own opinions.
Swearing in Real Life
Josh: I’ve always had some pretty strong opinions on the idea of there being bad words. What makes a word bad? Is it purely the underlying meaning or definition of the word, is there something offensive in that particular combination of phonetic sounds or does the intent of the expression mean more than just the sounds we make?
Aubrey: Huh. I hadn’t really thought about that much, but now that you bring it up, it makes a lot of sense. I think it has to do with what the words actually mean, and what people make them mean. Words are constantly being changed to mean something other than their original intent. The idea of “bad words” is mostly cultural, but can also be attributed to how people use them and what they actually mean.
Josh: The only issue I have with the idea that the meaning is what makes the word bad is that we have acceptable alternatives to the actual words, but they maintain the same meaning. “Screw you!” “That’s bull crap” “Darnit!” “That was freaking amazing!” All of these phrases could be spoken in a G rated movie, yet the meaning behind them, especially if spoken in genuine anger, can be just as severe as their profane alternatives.
Aubrey: That is a good point. Why is it that I am allowed to and say darn or dang or crap all of the time, but won’t ever say the “d-word” or “s-word”. Sometimes I feel like the “swear words” that are looked down upon could be perfectly valid words, so who/what deemed them “bad words”. I don’t ever swear in front of people because I have a reputation to uphold, and even though one of these “bad words” may fit the situation, I wouldn’t want people to think different of me from the words I use.
Aubrey: Many times in school I have seen people go through different stages of swearing. There is the “just testing it out don’t really know what any of it means” elementary school phase, then the “I think I sound really cool when I say this” phase, etc. etc. until in adulthood people actually know how to use these bad words and are using them as a regular part of their sentences.
Aubrey: The use of profane language is a culture thing, but also an environment thing. The people a person grows up around and who they might speak to as a child changes the way this child might speak. Kids learn from their parents (or media/other things around them), so if a parent is constantly swearing, the child might do the same.
Swearing Just For the Sake of Swearing
Aubrey: This is the one thing that bugs me. Usually I am not bothered too much by a minimal amount of swearing in books (especially when it enhances the situation as I will talk about in the next section), but when characters are throwing out the f-bomb for no reason other than “just because” I don’t like it. Also when it is every other word, it makes me uncomfortable and I will usually stop reading. I think the only exception to this is in war books, or other situations like war.
Josh: I think it’s getting a lot harder as time goes on as casual swearing has just become the language of our culture. As the youth of the previous generation start to become the authors of the current generation this language will follow along with them. And while I do agree that in books, as in real life, I’m not a fan of overuse of profanity, it is how people talk these days.
Because of the Character
Aubrey: There are situations where it wouldn’t fit if the character didn’t use profanity. Imagine if a character in a war book was watching all of his friends in battle (some of them not surviving), and was shooting at people himself. Then a grenade hits and takes out the people directly beside him. “Jolly gee.” he says “That was a teeny bit too close.” It would take away from the entire story. If it adds to the character then I feel like that is the exception. It goes both ways though. There are many times where there is absolutely no reason for profanity in a part of a book (or in life), but the character uses it anyway and that bothers me.
Josh: I feel like profanity has become part of our society, for better or worse (probably worse). To hide from it or to censor it only serves to blind ourselves to what reality is. Now I’m not saying writing should be rife with swearing of all sorts from every character, but one of the quickest ways to bring me right out of a story is to err on the other side and unrealistically clean up what society has become.
Josh: Although I do think that it’s incredibly important to consider your audience. You mentioned earlier about giving war books a pass of sorts due to the unique nature of that situation, and I think the people reading those sorts of books are open to the reality of what war is and how soldiers talk. If you’re writing a fantasy novel or young adult romance story, peppering it with liberal amounts of profanity might seriously alienate your readers.
Aubrey: I completely agree. The audience the book is written for is a big part of when profanity is deemed acceptable (childrens book vs. war story). There is a certain level of expectancy in certain types of books.
Censoring: Do you think books/ music/ anything should be censored or that there should be some sort of warning system to warn the readers of what they might come into contact with?
Aubrey: I enjoy warnings because I so strongly don’t enjoy liberal amounts of profanity in any sense. But again, if a person is reading a genre that is known for some sort of possibly offensive material, than I think it should be expected to a certain degree.
Josh: I have interesting opinions on the topic as I don’t fully think that words themselves can be considered bad, yet I don’t swear. Again, for me at least, it comes down to audience, and while I may find swear words to be inoffensive I can’t assume those around me share those convictions. And so, in an attempt to be considerate to others, I refrain from using harsh language, even though it personally does not bother me.
Let’s chat: What do you think about the use of possibly offensive language in real life? In books? Do you believe that swearing can take away (or possibly add) to a character or setting? Do you think swearing is just a part of the culture or something more? Please leave any opinions in comments. I would love to discuss with you all.