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When I'm reading, there are some swear words (like the 'c' word) which kick my eyes off right the page. On blog posts, if I see that word (or even the less-offensive 'f' word), I stop reading right there. If the 'c' word's in a book or movie, or it feels like every other line of dialogue contains an 'f-ing', there's a better than 50/50 chance of losing me as a reader/viewer.

Don't get me wrong, when it comes to bad language, I'm certainly no prude (although, since this is a family-friendly blog, I'd rather folks don't use it here). Thanks in no small part to my old gran, by the time I started pre-school I knew more swear words than most adults. It's just that when I see them used in a book or movie, more often than not it seems unnecessary. I feel like the writer's gone for the easy shock. 

I'm not saying I want to see 'dang' and 'gosh darn it' substituted for every 'f' and 'c' word. For me, it's a more a case of 'Just because we live in permissive time when writers can throw in as much swearing as they like, without fear of censure, doesn't mean they should.' 
 


How about you?

What's your take on foul language in books and movies?



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( 102 comments — Leave a comment )
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queenoftheskies
Sep. 14th, 2011 03:26 pm (UTC)
I think you're right that they're generally over-used, but I do think they can be effective used sparingly. It might tell us the character's frame of mind if they rarely use strong cursewords and then pop out with one.

However, having said that, there are some that I find particularly offensive and if I see them multiple times within a short span of time/pages, I'll stop reading and set the book aside.

And, I'm not a prude either.
jongibbs
Sep. 14th, 2011 04:26 pm (UTC)
For me, the trouble with overusing swear words, is they lose their shock value.
mutive
Sep. 14th, 2011 03:35 pm (UTC)
Some people swear in real life. A lot, really. If it's a character who should swear, I want them to swear. But if it's someone who doesn't, I want them to avoid it. (Or at least be really choosy.)

It seems like in some books, swearing is thrown in for shock value, which I dislike. But it also throws me if I have a really rough character who should swear and is like, "oh, gosh darn it" or whatever. Or "golly" or even just "ouch" when he/she hits his/her thumb with a hammer and I know he/she really would have said "s$%t".

I agree on blog posts, though. There is a reason to swear on some, but it's something that ought to be done very sparingly.
jongibbs
Sep. 14th, 2011 04:33 pm (UTC)
A fair point, Julia. However, with the possible exception of my old gran, I'd say the vast majority of people who swear a lot are really just saying the words as opposed to cursing out of anger. Where the average person might say 'bloody' or 'damn', these folks throw in the 'f' word without a second-thought.

From a storytelling point of view, the trouble comes when the foul-mouthed character is faced with a situation worthy of a more offensive outburst. I should think it'd be difficult to portray that.
(no subject) - temporus - Sep. 14th, 2011 04:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
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mtlawson
Sep. 14th, 2011 03:37 pm (UTC)
I don't mind the usage of profanity, although the characters have to dictate the situation. Does it make sense for that character to drop f-bombs is something that has to be wrestled with.
jongibbs
Sep. 14th, 2011 04:37 pm (UTC)
For me, it's more when the swearing seems unnecessary. All too often, I get the feeling the writer put it in to show what a rebel he/she is, if that makes sense.
saetter
Sep. 14th, 2011 03:41 pm (UTC)
I never put up with language when it's just someone talking (a blog or verbal conversation). Coarse language is usually a backup for lacking vocabulary (or at least, I usually let it slip when I don't have the words to express frustration...). On tv or movies, it depends on the show. Sometimes it builds character and setting. Other times it gratuitous. It's hard to define the fine line that differentiate them.

Foul language can add to shows when the underlying drama supports the need for the language and/or the characterizations are so strong, I'm compelled to watch anyway.

Deadwood is a perfect example of this. David Milch's prose on that show is astounding. Ever thought you'd hear the f and c words liberally used in iambic pentameter? Well, there's three seasons of Deadwood showing dirty frontier-folk using more than a platoon under fire. But it works because the characters are compelling, enviably so.

Likewise, HBO's Rome used heavy language (and violence), but instead of making it sound anachronistic, they blended in ancient sensibilities to make the curses and oaths feel authentic. If you have the stomach for violence (and nudity), then I highly recommend Rome. Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo are my all time heroes, the type of characters I wish I had created. ("Thirteen!!")

So, yes. Language can turn me off blogs and some shows, but there are exceptions where it's just a stronger spice in the soup.
msstacy13
Sep. 14th, 2011 03:48 pm (UTC)
The first season of "Rome" was superb,
but it lost me halfway through the second season.
(no subject) - maryjdal - Sep. 14th, 2011 04:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jongibbs - Sep. 14th, 2011 04:44 pm (UTC) - Expand
knittingknots
Sep. 14th, 2011 03:43 pm (UTC)
Doesn't bother me as dialogue, especially if it fits the character and is appropriate to the situation. I guess I've known too many people who've talked that way. In a blog post, it ought to be for extreme situations, although I know some bloggers who write like they probably speak, or just want to be edgy. My opinion of such writers is not as high as of other people...I see it as a person who has adjective deficiency.
jongibbs
Sep. 14th, 2011 04:45 pm (UTC)
I know some bloggers who write like they probably speak, or just want to be edgy.

True enough, on both counts. Thanks for sharing, Sue :)
msstacy13
Sep. 14th, 2011 03:45 pm (UTC)
As you may recall, I was recently rebuked by a seminarian
because the story I was reading to an audience
which included High School girls
had a tastefully written scene about sex in the trunk of a car.
I admitted afterwords that the seminarian was correct;
my reading that story to that audience was inappropriate.

And it does seem dashed absurd that editors
find adverbs more odious than profanity.

And when a character shouts,
"Oh, f^iddlesticks@%&!"
Are we being shown anything, or merely told?
black_faery
Sep. 14th, 2011 04:04 pm (UTC)
Completely OT, but every time I see one of your comments on Jon's blog, I keep wanting to read it like a poem... :-)
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(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Sep. 14th, 2011 04:50 pm (UTC)
"I think we can all tell the difference between natural dialog and contrived swearing for shock value."

Indeed we can. Probably because the latter happens so often. :P
temporus
Sep. 14th, 2011 04:02 pm (UTC)
Foul language should be necessary. I don't exactly shy away from it in my work, but I do try to think hard about it whenever I can. Do I REALLY need it. Could I give the same impression without needing to drop the f-bomb? Does the story ring true without the inclusion?

Sadly, some people do mistake vulgarity for edginess. On the other hand, I can just as thrown out of a story if the author goes above and beyond to avoid vulgarity. If Bob would have cursed in a situation and you don't have him curse, I'm going to feel disjointed from the character.

Mind you, I'm okay with replacement curses. So if in your story, the f-word is replaced by 'flurg', I'm okay with that, so long as it's clear to me that the usage is pretty obvious, and that people react to that word in much the same way as you might expect the f-bomb in english.
jongibbs
Sep. 14th, 2011 04:53 pm (UTC)
'Sadly, some people do mistake vulgarity for edginess.'

Sadly most of them are comedians, or think they are.

You're spot on about using alternate words. Joss Whedon in Firefly and the folks who wrote Battlestar Gallactica did just that with 'rutting' and 'frak'.
(no subject) - temporus - Sep. 14th, 2011 06:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
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(Deleted comment)
jongibbs
Sep. 14th, 2011 05:11 pm (UTC)
Oh yes, it's definitely required on occasion, I just find it offputting, especially when it doesn't seem justified.
maryjdal
Sep. 14th, 2011 04:38 pm (UTC)
I watched The Big Lebowski one too many times. I'm desensitized now to the F word. I hate the c word though. But I agree with a lot of the comments. If my character swears, she swears. To avoid that would make her seem less real to me. As for MG and YA literature. I suppose you have to be much more careful. The thing is, if the setting is now can you avoid it entirely? It just feels so mainstream now. But I agree with you last statement. Just because we can, doesn't mean it always fits or is necessary.
jongibbs
Sep. 14th, 2011 05:13 pm (UTC)
I've never seen </i>The Big Lebowski</i>. Is that the bowling movie with Jeff Bridges?

(no subject) - maryjdal - Sep. 14th, 2011 06:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
bogwitch64
Sep. 14th, 2011 04:59 pm (UTC)
It depends upon the book or movie. In something like Trainspotting, it would have been ridiculous NOT to have a huge amount of cursing. In something like Billy Elliot, a few are believable. Then get something like When Harry Met Sally, and dropping the fbomb every other sentence would be stupid and annoying.

Having adult children with adult significant others and friends within that generation for which the words we'd have had our mouths washed out with soap for are as common as "cool" and "damn" it no longer phases me much. Those words used to have power. Now they're mundane. It's kinda sad, in a way.
jongibbs
Sep. 14th, 2011 05:18 pm (UTC)
There's certainly a time and a place. Much as I flinch whenever Bruce Willis swears in Die Hard, it just wouldn't be the same movie without that 'Yippi-Ki-Yay [censored]' line." :)
(no subject) - msstacy13 - Sep. 14th, 2011 05:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - bogwitch64 - Sep. 14th, 2011 05:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
wendigomountain
Sep. 14th, 2011 05:04 pm (UTC)
I used to work for an old farmer, a first generation Irish immigrant we called "Murphy". He used to write letters to all sorts of people and held regular correspondence with men such as Johnny Unitas and JFK. He told me the secret of writing a letter is to just put your pen to paper and let the words come like they were sitting across the table from you, having a conversation in person.

I don't have a lot of friends around me, so pretty much my blog and social networks online are my outlet for conversation. I tend to write like I would talk, complete with profanity. Now, since I know you don't really like such language (I myself find it unnecessary at times, especially when used by someone who is using four letter words for shock value), I have been sure to tone down my colorful language if I think you might be interested in the subject. Otherwise, I find that profanity can often give a certain cadence to the words on the page. If I cuss when I talk about something, you can guarantee I'll cuss when I write about something.

Not so much in fiction, however, unless I've got it between quotation marks. That's just bad form.
jongibbs
Sep. 14th, 2011 05:22 pm (UTC)
I think there is (or at least, should be) a marked difference in the way we use curse words in fiction. In the same way written dialogue is different from spoken. It's definitely required at times, but (for me, at least) unless it's essential, I can't see the point of it.

asakiyume
Sep. 14th, 2011 05:20 pm (UTC)
In fiction and movies, I don't mind it if it's natural for the characters to use it.** In my everyday life, I don't use it much myself, and the people I'm around don't use it much. But, this goes up and down. There have been times and places where I've used more profanity. I've toned it down at times... and then other times I've gradually relaxed and let more profanity come in.

**You can make choices, though. For example, it might be hard to make an authentic in-the-trenches war movie without profanities, but if you're making a buddy comedy movie, you can choose the level of language. Sure, lots of twenty-something guys use profanities, but a fair number don't, too.



jongibbs
Sep. 14th, 2011 05:30 pm (UTC)
Even in a war movie, I think there's a world of difference between swearing when a grenade goes off a few yards away, showering a soldier with bits of his comrades [justified], and the same guy using the 'f' word all the time when talking to his buddies about nothing in particular.

I wouldn't have a problem with the former, but I would probably give up on a book or movie if it were the latter, however
'realistic' it may actually be.
rowyn
Sep. 14th, 2011 05:38 pm (UTC)
I don't like cursing either, although I don't usually stop reading/watching due to foul language. I rarely swear in my own writing, though -- I think the last three books I worked on had one f-word between them (and no c***). In fantasy fiction, I'll try to give the characters colorful expressions based on their settings ("Seven staring gods" is a popular one for World Tree, for example, an RPG setting I play and write in.) Or I will write "Jon swore profusely" instead of "*** *** *****!" said Jon.
jongibbs
Sep. 14th, 2011 06:27 pm (UTC)
There's usually a way to avoid most of it, which makes the occasions when it has to be used, that much more effective, I think.
martyn44
Sep. 14th, 2011 05:58 pm (UTC)
If it is appropriate to that character in that situation. I'm much more tolerant of it on the page than I am in real life. After all, on the page is supposed to be a dramatic situation and there are times - even in real life - when only an expletive can express the emotion (and defuse the situation, often enough) In real life I agree with my father, that a foul mouth is often a sign of an empty head.
jongibbs
Sep. 14th, 2011 06:27 pm (UTC)
'...a foul mouth is often a sign of an empty head'

Lol :)
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