Profanity & Writing

This blog post is brought to you by the confluence of two things: personal experience and and an essay by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Ms. Le Guin’s latest (?) book, No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, contains an essay titled, “Would You Please Fucking Stop?” In it, she observes “I keep reading books and seeing movies where nobody can fucking say anything except fuck, unless they say shit. I mean they don’t seem to have any adjective to describe fucking except fucking even when they’re fucking fucking. And shit is what they say when they’re fucked … The imagination involved is staggering.”

What once was a shock word has become a noise to mean intensity. But should it? Or, rather, should it so easily? The word, as she points out, “has huge overtones of dominance, of abuse, of contempt, of hatred.”

Why do I bring this up?

This week I was hunting online to find possible markets for a story I’d written. One specified that they adhered to a strict PG-13 criteria when choosing what to publish, so submitted work should contain no religion-based profanity, certainly no f-bombs, and maybe not even any shits, damns, or hells.

I knew of at least a couple fucks in my story, so I searched them out. Turned out there were more than a few; enough so I began to wonder how frequently profanity invades what I write (or how I speak) without my even realizing it. The answer? More than I’d like, and more than I’m proud of.

It was a gaming-changing moment.

Don’t get me wrong. I think profanity has its place, but it shouldn’t be overdone. I hadn’t thought I’d overdone it, but I found myself wondering whether my story would suffer if I removed not only the fucks, but the shits, damns, hells, and whatnot … or would it be improved?

Know what I discovered?

The lack of profanity hurt the story not one whit. The characters still were who they were, did what they were meant to do, and lost not an ounce of color or personality in the process.

Was I being lazy in using profanity? Maybe. Going forward, I intend to exert a touch more vigilance when it comes to writing and editing, to make my use of those words–as with all words–thoughtful rather than haphazard.

The work–and I–will be better for it.

6 thoughts on “Profanity & Writing

    • In my case, it’s made me watchful of how I present, both in print and in person. I don’t want to be the person who curses … not that I ever did all that much … but even the little bit I do makes me reconsider. Do I need it? Likely not. Just being lazy.

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      • Me to mo. I listen to other people and it’s similar to when someone constantly overuses the word like or correct. It drives me crazy. :). I try to monitor the cursing but don’t want to self edit when I write it also don’t want to sound like I have Tourette’s. 🙂

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  1. I seldom use profanity in my speech. It’s not that I’m shy of swearing, it’s just I feel that there are better words to express my thoughts.

    Profanity can produce great impact when used sparingly. At least, that’s how I see it. I have a friend who curses on every sentence that he utters. So, when he uses profanities, my mind subconsciously ignore them since I hear slashed say them all the time 😃

    When I was still performing as a pro magician, I would sometimes use profanity when perfoing to young adults or at bars when I want to emphasize something. This certainly got their attentions.

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    • I also have a friend for whom profanity is second nature. It doesn’t even register on my radar (not that my radar is particularly sensitive to it, anyway). For myself, though, I want to be more aware of how often the words jump to my tongue and not let them fall out of my mouth.

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