Wednesday, June 8, 2016

WRITING WITH PROFANITY

About Cussing and Censorship. 




It has come to my attention that Google could consider this blog offensive because it contained (past tense) lewd language. Their guidelines state that my blog should be accessible (without being objectionable) to small children and to be viewed in a workplace environment. Because of this, I have altered the in-your-face profanity. Those words now look like this... f*** b**** and c*** etc. I do not object to this censorship since this Blog is a public forum, while a book that includes obscenities is IMO a private forum. Besides...
as a writer and illustrator of children's books (including the classic Love You Forever, with 30 million in print) kiddies and/or sensitive people may be perusing my blog if they are looking for particular advice on kids' books. I truly do not want to offend my kids' book audience.

It's interesting that I've come up against this type of censorship while writing a blog about the yes's and no-no's of using profanity... in fact it's funny-sad really... like old school airbrushing of nipples and bellybuttons, when even the words fart, screw, cock etc were off limits. In any case, a blog on censorship is another subject, albeit related to profanity in literature, and I will dedicate another blog to that subject in the near future. Purists, please forgive my whitewashing of the questionable language.

For all readers, and hyper-typers who may run into the should-I-put-profanity-in-my-book question, this post and no doubt future follow-ups, are about not only writing using smutty language, but how to do it effectively. These are my experiences and observations, so make of them what you will. I welcome your comments.

Those who have forayed to this hyper-typer's page to nominate my book The Knife Thrower's Wife on the Amazon/Kindle publishing site called Kindle Press A.K.A Kindle Scout... and those who foraged through the synopsis, then glanced at the excerpt, you probably noticed that the third word of the opening sentence of the book is f***. Is that a good thing? Or a bad thing?  

One of my first encounters with
a daring use of the word f***.
Arthur Nersesian's brilliant
THE F*** UP,
the original cover design wrapping the
"offensive" word around the minimalist,
gorgeously designed cover.
What did that usage of the word mean to you? Were you quaking from exposure to that word? Did it burn your retinas? Did you think that every third word throughout the entire novel is going to be f***? Or were you intrigued... did you say... that's a ballsy opening line. I like this protagonist/narrator chick because it sounds like a natural reaction. After all, what would you say if you woke up to find thousands of bats in your bedroom hanging all over everything, dropping their stinky guano? Would you say "What the fiddlesticks?" Or would you say "What the f***?" even if you usually don't cuss. If you said fiddlesticks! you'd know you really meant f*** anyway, so why not say it?

The word f*** has been around for quite some time. Some say it originated from some British-common-law-thingy where it stood for "fornication under common knowledge"... translation: a guy takes advantage of a girl too young to know what the hay is going on.

Taking f*** mainstream: The sheer volume of swearing in Quentin Tarantino's film Reservoir Dogs took f*** to a place where it was suddenly not-so-bad. But even before that, one of my art profs from long ago despaired of the hoi polloi becoming desensitized to the word. I could have told him back then that it was already happening and the great unwashed were dabbling in the use of the c-word, and the double-barreled mother***er, an expression that seems odd to me, especially since it has been followed by the complimentary MILF (mother-I'd-like-to-f***.) However, there are still people, and to my shock they're not all over 80, who cringe at the f-bomb whether written or spoken. What's their dealio? Okay, I know their deal... it's an emotional objection and a mannerly reaction. Let's face it, cussing is crude and meant to have shock value, which is what makes it effective. The worst thing that could happen to gutter-speak is to become normal for everyone, to completely lose its punch, because then what? We'd have to resort to actual punching, or maybe shooting, to get our point across.

The power of the f-bomb... One of the French Connection U.K. chain of stores.

And what about using other euphemisms for having sex: screwing, shagging, knobbing, banging, boinking, shafting? These all mean having sex, and are generally off limits for the ears of children, but none are as offensive as f***. However while it's actually quite cute to say with a smile "go shag yourself" that's not so much the case with "go screw yourself" which is, on the offensive-scale, edging closer to "go f*** yourself." What to say, when, and with whom present is a often a landmine.

Then there are the socially inflammatory n-words: 
Please note this video may be offensive to some. Viewer discretion is advised.
While the jury's out on the efficacy of desensitization, only Chris Rock's brand of humor could pull this video off.

While the black community has adopted these terms and appears to be working to desensitize them, only time will tell if that's a good idea, or not.I understand why these previously odious terms are being adopted, since the word b*** is also used by women who have the goal of claiming it for our own. However, there's a caveat to these words. Whether the b-word with women; or blacks who use the words n-wordwoe be to any "unqualified" user of the words.

Some days it saddens me that young blacks use this term that flies in the face of their parents' and grandparents' struggles to eliminate it as the scourge it once was... as toxic as a social cancer. Other times, I care not, partly because like most whites, I'm sidelined on the issue. But just don't use the term around me, thank you very much. For the moment, I, a borderline albino, am too white to judge. (If such a club existed I'd be a member of "The Whitest Women in the World Club" which would include Peggy lee and Queen Elizabeth...) So, I will never use those words, whether in public or private. Strangely, those terms have become, for me at least, more loaded, frightening, and socially repugnant than f*** or any others. The use of the n-word and such-like is such a hot button subject that such venerable publications as the New York Times have waded into the murky waters on this issue, including this article on context

Then there's the big bad c-word.
While the word f*** is about the act of sex, words for the male and female parts that create the act are oddly, well, at odds. Male genitals have somewhat benign, even humorous names like package, or dick. But there isn't much of a female equivalent. When it comes to girl-bits, the most vile word in the profanity lexicon is the c-word

There's also pussy and beaver. Using pussy as a pejorative is usually directed at a man who is weak or fearful. In my book The Knife Thrower's Wife I went searching for another term and created dialogue where a character uses clit as a derogatory female version along the line of dick. As in "What's that clit doing here?" I believe I'm the first to coin that term and use it in that respect. I like it!
If you can handle seeing dirty words spelled out, the blog JEZEBEL pretty much sums up my thoughts on the c-word.


As a lover of words, I include cuss words in my personal repertoire; all of them, including c***. It's interesting to me that gutter language has geographical territories, or populations of acceptance and non-acceptance. I heard the c-word used copiously in England, in fact, I heard it used randomly on the street and I became quickly desensitized and embraced the usage, but meanwhile, back in the states, that word never crosses my lips unless I'm with someone I know appreciates it.

And that pretty much sums up how and when to be profane... whether within the company you keep, making a presentation, or writing a novel or a blog... like crossing the street, copious drinking, or playing with firearms, profanity can have unexpected consequences... swear with care.



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 The opinions expressed in this blog are my views alone and I welcome your comments.