By Loozrboy (Watch your language)
[CC BY-SA 2.0
via Wikimedia Commons
I'm not a great fan of bad language when every other character is 'effing and blinding' all the time – yet there are plenty of people in this world who don't even think of f*** or f***ing as swear words. They aren't even verbs or adjectives, they are just a normal feature of their speech.
Balanced against that, many people are really turned off by the use of such words, and that needs to be thought about too.
Is there a scale? Is 'bl**dy' all right? Or 'b*gger'? What about 'damn'? I think I'm right in saying some US readers would consider 'darn' more acceptable. I'm envious of the Irish who seem to get away with 'fecking' and the Americans who have 'freaking', while we don't seem to have an English variant on the same level of acceptability. There are one or two words I wouldn't ever let my characters use because I personally consider them too high up a scale of my own making – yet I'm finding my use of the ****ing asterisk very coy!
Oh g*sh, this is all very complicated, isn't it!
Some people swear occasionally. Some people swear a lot. Some people never swear – so when they do, it immediately conveys a great deal about their state of mind. All these are things that can be used to differentiate characters. I have friends who habitually say 'sugar' instead of 'sh*t' or 'oh good heavens' instead of 'oh my God'. They correct children or grandchildren if they swear. They use wonderfully creative alternatives to swear words, such as 'oh plinkety plonk' or 'suffering catfish'.
One evening I raised this question with some of them, and we discovered that over the evening's game of bridge we all actually swore (mildly but frequently). Only once was this on the f*** scale, but that's because we are all douce, middle class women.
Back to writing novels. My characters swear when it's appropriate, and sometimes this creates a strong effect. A violent criminal isn't likely to say, 'Oh bother,' when something goes wrong – but neither is a douce, middle class woman when shocked, terrified, or faced with disaster.
Have I already lost a whole swathe of readers? What do other writers feel?
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