What's the Big Fucking Deal?
|If I had a nickel... I sure as fuck wouldn't put it in there.|
The other side of the argument is made up of the That's How People Talk camp. Think about when you watch a rated-R movie on TV, and the hero's profane one-liner is turned into a kid-friendly ad lib. Cleaning up the language characters are using in a book is sort of like that; readers know what they mean, but the characters are denied their preferred forms of verbal punctuation. I call this pulling the punch, and it refers to taking any action that alters a story with no intention other than making the person reading it feel less uncomfortable. Generally it doesn't serve to make the story better, and many times it can make what was a poignant exchange seem juvenile. This side of the line tends to be readers who admit that while the use of profanity is vulgar, it is still a tool that can be used to great effect in a book.
How Profanity Has Changed Over The Years
There was an old piece of writing advice from Mark Twain that suggested writers replace every use of "very" with the word "damn" because the editor will simply delete all the unnecessary terms. It was meant to show that "very" is a lazy word choice (which it is), but it also let people know that "damn" would rarely if ever be allowed into a completed manuscript.
That changed in the 1960s.
|Along with pretty much everything else.|
So What The Fuck Should I Do?
|Oh for fuck's sake...|
If you've invented your own world though, then what is considered profane is also up to your discretion. Whether it's the manufactured swear word "frell" in the television show Farscape or it's the particularly vicious swear word "bags" preferred by the wizard Zedd in the Sword of Truth series, you don't have to use a real-world four-letter word to let the reader know what's going on.
Put the "Profane" in "Profanity"
In 1944 the infamous observer of American culture H.L. Mencken noted that cursing had been going out of style since the Civil War. According to Mencken the problem was the anything truly profane had been seeing less use, and that people were replacing blasphemous oaths with short, four-letter words that lacked any real profanity in them. Sure "fuck" and "shit" are short, punchy words that can be easily barked, but are they really profane?
|Where the fuck are you going with this?|
In order for something to be profane it has to invoke the divine somehow. Worlds with more colorful divinities will simply have more colorful profanity to go with them.
Profanity is Just a Tool
I've referred to profanity as verbal punctuation, and that's very true. To paraphrase Lewis Black, these are the words that adults use to express rage, frustration, and anger. As an author it's important for you to paint as honest a picture as you can. Does that mean you need to linger on every torn apart corpse in a murder scene, or every moment of passion between two lovers? No, not if it isn't making a point.
Profanity is the same way.
Do you have to use profanity to make a point in a story? Is it required to make a character properly repulsive, or hard-ass, or rebellious? No, you don't have to, but sometimes profanity is just the simplest, most straightforward way to make a fucking point.
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