The Fine Art of Cursing

Minion Meme

Minion Meme

Warning: Crude language ahead.

This might not be a long post because it feels like a simple topic.  Just like sex and violence, cursing is a personal preference category.  Some people freak out when you say ‘damn’ while others laugh when you say stuff that is a lot more vulgar.  It’s rather interesting how we have a saying ending with ‘words will never hurt me’ and we also have a list of words you can’t say in most situations.  Most of them have mundane versions that you can say or you can use #*^@! instead.  I’m sure nobody can figure out what f*ck or sh^t is.

Unlike sex and violence, cursing seems to stem a lot more from manners than dangerous activities.  I think this comes from us wanting to act and be perceived as mature.  Swear words are for ruffians, criminals, the ill-educated, and certain classic authors. Personally, I don’t think the use of cursing is always a sign of low education and intelligence.  Some people are amazingly cunning with their use of swear words.   Again, that’s just a personal opinion and that’s really all you hear on the topic.

What does this have to do with Crossing Bedlam?  Well, I use a lot of swear words in there.  Mostly ‘fuck’ and it even has a place in Cassidy’s catchphrase, which is ‘Shut the fuck up, Lloyd!’.  The others show up from time to time, but it’s weird.  I’ve used the mundane versions for so long that those have become second nature unless it’s a specific situation that makes me think of them.  For example, I think Lloyd says butt and rear more than ass.  Yet, it seems those are still not as bad as the terrifying f-bomb that will peel the wallpaper, boil your goldfish, mismatch your socks, and make your dear grandmother cry even though she spews curse words like a she has a permanently stubbed toe.  Did I have a point here?  Maybe.

I think choosing to use or not use swear words is an important one.  Not because of your own preferences, but for the story and the opinions of your readers.  Swear words won’t work in Legends of Windemere for some reason.  They just don’t feel right like they do with Crossing Bedlam.  I made the conscious decision to use them instead of doing something like this:

Adventure Time

Adventure Time

I have to stand by that decision and make it clear from the beginning.  For no other reason that people hate being surprised by potty-mouth.  Also I really shouldn’t make any apologies for this decision.  So does anyone else use curse words in their stories or refuse to even touch them?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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20 Responses to The Fine Art of Cursing

  1. They always make me think, but I have to be true to the character. Obviously, we don’t want to offend a reader, but if a swear word is going to ruin the experience for them, my genre choices might not be the best for them. I even made some up in The Cock of the South.


  2. sknicholls says:

    I recently read a post by someone who has attended lots of conventions and writes cozy mysteries. For her audience swear words don’t work and she advises against them in public reads. My first chapter has swear words in it and I plan to read it, but offer a warning in the introduction. Unless you’re writing cozy mysteries, I don’t see how you can avoid them in crime fiction. My editor kept dropping in swear words that took God’s name in vain, and I kept pulling them out and replacing them. Even though I’m not religious, the way I was raised, I’ve never felt comfortable doing that. It seems unnecessarily disrespectful. My protagonist was raised by a Bible thumper, and I think he would likely take the same position. His side-kick was also raised in the south where you just don’t here those words spoken aloud in public often.


    • Know your audience seems to come into play. Great example of how we’re raised denotes the usage of swear words. I never thought about the Bible thumper one. Then again, I’ve noticed that I rarely use the ‘God’ swears and exclamations in my non-fantasy stuff. Not sure why, but it could be due to upbringing.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Jan Hawke says:

    In context cursing is fine by me, especially if it would be odd for the character not to swear (‘Oh, gracious – I appear to have stubbed my toe’, convincing anyone?). That’s regardless of points in time – the swear words may be different, but dirty talk would still be used – how do you think ‘gosh’ ‘golly’ and even ‘bloody’ started out (for the record the latter blasphemous term began as ‘by Our Lady’, and the other as ‘God’s…’ body parts or products that I won’t elaborate on here for obvious reasons – just go as nasty as you can go 😉 ).
    What I would draw the line at is constant cursing – it’s just overkill and becomes monotonous over time which is just lazy and boring. Curse words are just accented or emphasised words I think – used wisely they add tone when you need your character to express frustration, disgust or anger. A little goes a long way, though!


    • The origins of some ‘bad’ words are really interesting. Some even lose power over time. For example, I say ‘damn’ without a problem, but I have friends who don’t like it. I’m hoping I don’t go too far with the curses in ‘Crossing Bedlam’, but Cassidy spews them when frustrated or angry. The most common phrase of the book actually has the f-bomb in it.


  4. Pingback: The Fine Art of Cursing | Illuminite Caliginosus

  5. VelahAuthor says:

    I try to stay away from them in my writing. The Barbarian, being in the same era (more-or-less) as Conan, has a wide variety of colorful phrases that don’t have to have modern cursing. My Velah character, however is a modern person, but I’m attempting to make that novel without dialogue.

    To each his own, to be sure. I don’t find one strewn around every so often, or even a character who can’t seem to talk without it (I’ve known people like that), but for it to be used as a part of the story (think Steven King) will turn me off of the writing.
    As Jan said, “What I would draw the line at is constant cursing – it’s just overkill and becomes monotonous over time which is just lazy and boring.”


    • Fantasy definitely does allow for cursing without traditional swear words. Interesting idea to write a story without dialogue, especially a modern tale.

      I think I might be in the other camp, but it’s because I’m not sure what people mean by constant cursing. I seem to have a high tolerance for it as long as the character is angry, frustrated, trying intimidate, or (to be honest) that kind of stupid where they think curse words make them sound smart. Guess I don’t get them when the person is happy or relaxing because they should have a verbal impact.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have not talked to a person in the last twenty years who doesn’t say fuck. In fact, one time a co-worker and I agreed not to use the word in any form (adj. adverb, noun, etc). We made it almost a week.


  7. kirizar says:

    I don’t think you could write a military story without them. I served four years and, upon exiting the Army, startled my parents to no end when I asked them to “Pass the fucking salt!” at the dinner table. The f-bomb was a comma or exclamation point in most conversations and it took me years to relearn how not to say it in everyday speech. (Talk about stuffing the fucking genie back in the bottle.) You’ll hear my scatological linguistic heritage if you cut me off in traffic though…and possibly while I am giving birth. I do believe I dropped a few curses then.


  8. edireland says:

    One of my books is about the Philly Mafia. I got to pull out all the stops with that one. I still smile when I think of it. On a personal note, I curse like a sailor working as a bouncer in a strip club.


  9. D.T. Nova says:

    I’ve written a “precision F strike”; one lone F-bomb dropped at a particularly appropriate moment by a character who otherwise doesn’t swear much.


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