Everything Else I Need to Think About Swearing I Learned from the WordPress Community


This is my standard “I don’t have a picture for this post, but it’s writing-related” photo. For those who would rather not read through the categories, looking for this picture will get you to other writing-related posts on my blog.

Whew! That title is a doozie.

With all the confessions and boasts of prodigious swearers in the crowd I am beginning to suspect that most bloggers must be pirates. Nevertheless, between and among the comments on my recently Freshly Pressed post about swearing (here’s the link) were some interesting contributions to the discussion. I’m including a few snippets here for your delight, consideration, and comment before I give this topic a rest. For someone not inclined to swear, this is a lot of reflection on it.

Onward me hearties!

First, are there different standards for the fiction we read and the fiction we watch on TV and in movies? If so, why?

My gut reaction is to say yes. When I watch fiction on TV, for example, I can get my clues and insights about the conversation from body language and tone of both the character and the other characters, as well as from the situation, in a snap. When I’m reading fiction, those clues come to me one at a time. Sure, they’re in context and my mind is keeping the pieces together, but I am reading them one line at a time and adding them to the whole. The choice to include swearing in a written piece, given the other details that must occupy space and fight for influence, holds more weight.

This takes me to a realm in which I have no experience and that is script-writing. Obviously, TV shows and movies have writers behind them that pull these elements together and create the visual space and story. These writers must make decisions not unlike the writers of novels or short stories about word choice. So I can really only make my “gut reaction” based on my experience watching shows. Swearing, so long as it is not gratuitous, tends to weave in and out of the story much like it weaves in and out of my day – dangerously close to becoming empty words. When I read I become more distracted by a proliferation of swear words, even if they do reflect an “authentic” conversation between a group of people.

Second, I covered fiction and non-fiction exclusively. What about poetry?

Ah yes, here’s another area I’m not well-versed in (excuse the pun?). My association of poetry and swearing is that when I try to write something poetic, I end up swearing.

My gut says similar standards apply, but given poetry’s unique ability to collect words in such a rhythm and juxtaposition of ideas and language so as to evoke strong opinions, imagery, and emotions, perhaps entirely different rules are necessary. I recently attended a Slam Poetry contest with a friend and there were definitely some expletives thrown into the works, but I don’t remember those as much as I remember the power of their words and overall compositions/performances.

Poetry is not just for swoon-worthy wooing. It can be dark. It can be sad. It can be light. It can be funny. It can be….well, just about any emotion out there. Is poetry more or less effective with or without swearing? Do the same standards apply as with fiction – use sparingly and only when absolutely necessary – or does poetry require more leniency or restriction when cursing?

Third, is it more “attention-grabbing” for a writer to drop in a swear word or to simply say, “An expletive exploded from Character’s mouth,” or “A string of expletives followed,” or something similar? 

I can see this type of device being used in writing for a younger audience, but, depending on the scenario, I think I’d be offended as a reader if that author continued to use it as a way of “saying but not saying” what they intend. In one sense it seems to break the reader’s bond with the character and asserts the author’s presence in a way that is distracting. On the other hand, if a character or the context has already included several instances of cursing, perhaps alternatives are merited and effective. Thoughts? Are expletives more distracting in your reading or allusions to them without specifics?

Or we could all just go back to a good ol’ pirate filler – aaaarrr!

(Okay, I’ll give the pirate-thing a rest too after this post.)

What do you think about any of these distinctions?

13 Responses to “Everything Else I Need to Think About Swearing I Learned from the WordPress Community”

  1. Carrie Rubin

    Swearing can be a useful means of showing sometimes. For example, if a character who rarely swears suddenly does so, it can show rather than tell his or her anger, frustration, fear, whatever. (And I think that’s what your FP post mentioned if I recall correctly.) But swearing can also be a form of lazy writing. If we use it too much, it might mean we’re taking a shortcut. We might be avoiding finding another way to show the character’s emotions.

  2. sfkeefer

    I don’t have the brain power at the moment to answer the questions, although I find the whole topic intriguing and your first post lines up exactly with how I feel about swearing in fiction and non-fiction. However, I snorted when I read your correlation between poetry and swearing, haha. Attempting to write poetry makes me swear, too.

  3. Nightwriter11

    I agree with Carrie Rubin. It can be a useful if used sparingly. If I read fiction laced with profanity, it distracts me from the story. I am much older than you, so I don’t know if you remember Jackie Collins. Several of her books were pure profanity. It seemed like every line of dialogue contained a curse. In today’s environment things have gotten worse. Movies and comics use profanity to get a laugh. If you have to use profanity to be comedic, then your not very funny. In my second novel I use two F-bombs in 86 thousand words and I spent days mulling over the need of the second one. Maybe I am just getting old, but I really don’t see the need for it.

    Love this piece. I will get to the links on my next visit. Never disappointed when I stop by your blog.


    • RebeccaV

      I had a tangent in this piece about comics who use profanity, but had to reel myself in off the rabbit trail and….edit 😦 But now that you mention it….dropping the F-bomb is not a punch line!

      I have been told I’m an old soul so it could just be that my birthdays haven’t caught up yet. Thanks for stopping by – I’ve been enjoying your blog as well!


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