WARNING: THIS POST IS NOT FOR THE WEAK OF STOMACH OR FAINT OF HEART
The subject of the use of expletives in writing came up at one of our local writing club meetings a few weeks ago. I don’t usually engage in serious debate over such things these days. I thus spent most of the discussion listening to a couple of my comrades explain the proper use and even necessity of no-no words in both writing and everyday speech.
Well, I don’t use them in either. Aside from wanting to show respect toward those who might be offended and not wanting to be a complete hypocrite (why is it that such simple words are referred to as “adult” language anyway?), here are some other reasons I find them unnecessary.
Not using them encourages creativity, which often leads to more effective tirades.
When my oldest child was a preschooler, Beloved and I had to put a taboo on the word “stupid”. That taboo stuck so well that six years later, when I was complaining to my sister about a certain professional, my daughter called me on it. I apologized and amended my choice of words. I don’t remember exactly how it went, something about ignorance, arrogance, and lack of intelligence. What I do remember is my sister’s response. “I think I’d rather be called stupid.”
For the record, the guy REALLY deserved a good insult.
We think in pictures, so synonyms work just fine
Whether you realize it or not, you think in images, even if you’re not a visual learner. Want me to prove it? Think about the word “chicken”. Now, tell the truth, did you think C H I C K E N or did an image come to mind? Perhaps
True, some of you will picture both the word and the image, but almost none of you pictured just the word. Since we think in images, the words don’t really matter, so why bother with a word that someone, somewhere, might find offensive? Hold on to your stomachs; I’m going to illustrate further. If I say a certain 4-letter word, you will probably picture something along the lines of
If I say Poo
Caca (this is the common word in Spanish-speaking households, so now I’m strutting my bilingualism)
Coprolite This one is my favorite. Not only does it mean poop, it means fossilized dinosaur poop. How fantastic is that? “Hi Honey. How was work?” “Coprolitic. T-Rex style.”
Given our visual nature, some words really are inappropriate for me to use unless I’m dead serious.
And I do mean dead serious. Now that you’re stomach is turned and you’ve vowed never to visit my blog again, let me really offend you. I believe in a literal Hell. Not a figurative state of mind and definitely not an eternal party. Thus, when I hear a certain word, I don’t picture
Since I don’t know any people I really want to suffer like that, and few things that are worth that much negative emotion, I don’t use that word. It would, in fact, indicate something pretty terrible if I did.
Last, but not least, chances are you’re more creative than I am.
It’s a well-established trick in the movie industry. Sometimes what you don’t show is more evocative than what you do. If I decide that Harsha (protagonist of my WIP) is having a very, very bad day and would like to express it, I could type out a string of words for you. On the other hand, I could just tell you, “She grit her teeth and mumbled a string of curses worthy of a sailor’s blush.” With the words typed out for you, you’ll mentally hear and picture them and keep reading without so much as skipping a line (unless my word choices inspired you to skip the rest of the book). If I leave it up to your imagination, you’ll ponder it for a moment. You’ll think, “What would I have said?” You’ll personalize it. I’ve just forced you to think about my characters and their story. Oh, such subtle marketing…
Does all this mean I’ll never use profanities in my writing? Not necessarily. In fact, my next book takes place in a world very unlike ours and I find it interesting to invent expletives that reflect the beliefs and fears of the characters. So, how about you? Do you use them? Why or why not? Or was this particular post just a little too offensive, even without those dirty little words?