Foul Language

My sister-in-law Wendy wonders on her blog why  romance writers, and readers, have such a hard time with people using cuss words.

So often, romances have a sanitized vibe to them. As though they have been scrubbed clean for the protection of the reader. Well, you know what? My ‘virgin’ eyes don’t need to be protected from foul words because I can cuss colorfully. My mother says I can make a sailor blush—and she’s been saying that since I was thirteen. I don’t buy into the theory that only the uneducated, who can’t stretch for word choice, pepper their speech with profanity. Everyone
I know, and I mean everyone, in my circle of family and friends went to
college and every single one of them cusses (some more liberally than
others). So why don’t characters in romances reflect this? Why don’t they speak like real people?

It’s not just in romances. You wouldn’t believe how many emails I got when someone said "shit" in the first  DIAGNOSIS MURDER book.  One profanity in the whole book and you’d think I’d spent ten pages describing a scene of bestiality…

7 thoughts on “Foul Language”

  1. Context it is. Generally, I wouldn’t put down a book because of cussing, but I would be more surprised to see it in a DM book than Elmore Leonard.
    There’s also the question of emphasis. Cussing in speech can be ignored, but we read each word, which gives it more power. Also, the plain cuss words fall pretty flat on the page. They’re standard words, just like describing a woman a “beautiful” or saying a sight was “horrible.” These are dull words, so they’re not worth saying. Better to come up with more imaginative curses.
    BTW, Terry Pratchett did a hilarious variation on it in one of his Discworld books by having one-half of a gangster Mutt-and-Jeff pair say “-ing” (as in f**king).

  2. I like “Red Dwarf” because they always came up with ways to get around censors and the likes. Take the android who wasn’t programmed to swear and the gyrations he went through to do so.

  3. If a book is written well enough I won’t put it down because of some cussin’. However, as Bill Peschel mentioned, swearing in a book is harder to ignore.
    The people who complained about swearing in your books probably weren’t expecting it as they are fairly clean. The surprise probably caused more people to react.

  4. I certainly agree that it has to do with context. Four letter words are not to be expected in the DM world, so it was out of the ordinary. They’re also very limited in cozies, period. Which, ultimate, is what DM is.
    Personally, I prefer my books without them. Just because people swear, why must we read about it all the time? How is leaving it out any less or more realistic then a doctor solving all kinds of cases?

  5. I think there are people who really get off on being the sort of people who are offended by dirty words. I bet there are mailing lists just for people to one-up each other, boasting how they get the vapors from more innocuous language than anyone else does.
    That said, people do have different tastes. A writing teacher told me once that if you want violence, kinkiness or cussing in your book, there should be some in the first chapter, if not the first few pages. Basically this allows these readers to not waste time on a book they aren’t going to finish.
    Maybe that’s why these people are so up in arms over your “shit.” They really liked the book and it pissed them off to put it down. And it’s your fault.

  6. I think it’s allright to use profanity, especially if context is appropriate. Morever if your expression is incomplete without it, then what’s the point of leaving it out. Last but not least, if it’s f***d out then it does not offend anyone.


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