I don’t know about you, but I love it. I love the depth of the language, the sheer joy of letting words play around in my mind and then spill out of my mouth in such a way that I can convey not only ideas and facts, but concepts and inferences. It’s exciting and exhilarating. And sometimes other words that start with ‘ex’. Like exasperating, excessive, exclamatory, excruciating, exhausting, existential, experimental, expansive, expedient, explicit, expressive, extensive, extreme, exuberant, and hundreds of others. (Although that last may be an exaggeration.)
But there are some words that elicit an immediate reaction in people, regardless of their context.
Whether you call them swear words, curse words, naughty words, or profanity, you know the ones I mean.
The words you wouldn’t say in front of your 80 year old grandmother.
The words that are more often referred to by ingenious pseudonyms in polite conversation. “The F-word”, “The C-Bomb”, “Sugar Honey Iced Tea” and their ilk. You know the ones I mean.
In real life, when I’m expressing my opinion verbally rather than in edited prose, I’ve learned to be careful with my use of offensive language. I used to swear. A lot. Then I had kids, and I rapidly replaced that profanity with less offensive alternatives.
Sugar Honey Iced Tea turned into a heartfelt Holy Dooley!
The F-Word turned into a loud Goodness!
And let me tell you, my children know I’ve really, truly had enough when their actions elicit an emotionally charged, “Goodness Gracious!” or, even worse, “For Goodness Sake!”
I wouldn’t swear in front of my children. I wouldn’t swear in front of other people’s children. I wouldn’t swear in front of my parents either, for the most part.
And that’s why I don’t generally use profanity on this blog.
I wouldn’t use profanity if I was having a conversation in a public place, where I could be overheard by people unknown. So I don’t use profanity here, in a public forum, where anyone can wander in and read what I’ve written. It’s pretty simple, right?
You see, I also write fiction. And when I’m writing a story, sometimes characters use language that I wouldn’t. Some characters do swear in front of children. And their parents. And even 80 year old grandmothers dying in hospital beds. Because (and this will hopefully not come as a huge surprise) not all people think, act, or feel the same as I do.
I made the decision a long time ago not to edit the character-appropriate profanity out of my fiction writing. And so when you read through the Flash Fiction posted on this blog (just click the link up the top there if you’re interested!), you’ll find the occasional naughty word.
As an artist, I’m not prepared to censor myself when it comes to the authenticity of my work.
But it’s different when it’s me talking, rather than a character. It’s different when I’m writing an editorial post — an outpouring of my own opinion — rather than a fictional story.
And that’s why I really struggled with the question of profanity when I posted a poem a couple of days ago. You may have noticed that it included a naughty word. Just the one, yes, but even so. (If you didn’t read my poem, you can find it here.)
For the first time ever, I agonised about whether to edit a word out of my post. I argued with myself extensively.
“But it’s a poem. It’s art. I have to leave it in there.”
“But it’s not really fiction, is it? It’s just an editorial piece written in verse.”
“Yes, but that word needs to be there. It expresses the emotion more clearly than any other word would in its place. It’s not like it’s just filler.”
“But if I wasn’t writing in verse, I wouldn’t have used it.”
In the end, I took a deep breath and posted the poem as I wrote it. Even knowing that anyone could read it. (Even knowing that my parents could read it.) Because a poem is, after all, something more than the sum of its words. And no one would even notice, right? And if they did, they certainly wouldn’t comment.
The next day, when I was at school to pick Big Brother up, I ran into a friend who happens to read my blog. “Hi Jo,” she said. “You used a naughty word in your blog yesterday.”
Well, so much for no one noticing. I can still fall back on the art explanation, right?
Do you use profanity in your writing? Do you have rules as to when and where it’s appropriate?