%$#$@* you?

to f-bomb or not to f-bomb, that is the question...

Ah swearing.  The melodic sounds of the f-bomb being hurled down the staircase, the strains of the b-word muttered under the breath, the sheer poetry of a creative string of a#$h#&%-mother#$*%&-sh&*head.  Lovely.

My son swore at me for around ten minutes straight last night. I should mention that he’s eight.  I should also mention that it’s not like we don’t know where he learned it; the apple doesn’t fall that far from the effing tree. But…it was like a dam breaking. He knows he is not allowed to swear and he slips up sometimes, but last night it was a true damn-the-torpedoes, hung-for-a-sheep-as-a-lamb, no-holds-barred tirade.  I had asked him to clean up the stuff he had strewn all over the yard. Also I think he was a wee bit tired. By the end of it we were both kind of freaked out, I think.

As a writer, words feel really powerful to me.  I remember when I was around seven, late one night new year’s eve (new year’s day, really, I guess), when the phone rang in our friends’ ski house. When my dad got on the phone he said, “oh shit.” I knew something bad had happened. My heart clenched and I lay in bed, eyes open, waiting to hear what was going to happen next.  I had never heard him use that word before.  I found out minutes later that my grandfather had died.

When my son yells “bitch!” it stings more than it should, because to me it is a word imbued with misogynist overtones.  Of course, to him it means female dog and he giggles about it with his best friend when they think I can’t hear them. He knows it’s a taboo word so he throws it out when he’s really mad, but he lacks any context.  When he asks why these words are swears I am hard-pressed to answer what makes them so ugly.  Still, we all know what they are.

I am editing my first draft of The Dangerous School, Class of 2030 and it turns out I had my characters swearing all over the place. They’re teenagers, they’ve got angst, they’re mostly talking amongst themselves – swears seem obvious, right? When I was writing it the words felt authentic, real.  But now I am cringing a little as I read them, and I’ve decided to edit out 90% to start, keeping in a few that I feel are actually needed to convey the emotion in the scene.  The remaining ones might get the axe, as might some of the “grey-area” swears I left in (does douche-bag really have to come out?  I love it so!).  Ironically, one of the main characters in the book, this kid Jack who I truly love, has something of a sewer mouth and is trying hard to break the swearing habit so he makes up his own creative swears as needed.  As he was told by another character, “swearing is a sign of a sloppy intellect. It’s lazy and ineffectual.  Get over it.”  Good advice, if I do say so myself.

As a postscript for anyone who is wondering how the rest of the evening went with my own mini-George Carlin, well, he settled down after a while.  We talked about what made him so mad, and about how there has to be better release hatches than such ugly words. When he went to sleep he said, “Goodnight mama.  I love you so much…no matter what I say when I’m mad.”

Now those are words I can live with.

2 comments to %$#$@* you?

  • Ah swearing and writing.
    I think it gets harder and harder as swearing, becomes more acceptable, so that we get used to even a god like Jon Stewart using it all the time, and enjoying being bleeped out……and we find ourselves swearing in front of little kids — although surprisingly, if we are among our elders, and yes at 68, I still have elders, I find that I can control my language, just the way I did as a kid.

    Then, there’s publishing that realizes that swear words belong in award winning YA book, but not sure if the writer hasn’t already won an award. I remember fighting to keep in the word “Assaholic — for someone my character described as someone who couldn’t stop being an asshole. We were worried about losing bookclub sales, but it somehow got through.

    So clearly swearing was invented for a reason…..we just don’t know why —

  • I love the word assaholic…makes me want to play around with being a “recovering assaholic”, a “lapsed assaholic”…really the possibilities are endless (just not in YA!)

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