Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Who's Afraid of Smutty Words?

I have serious concerns about people who can accept murder and other violence (even if it's off screen) yet are offended by mere words in a story.

Let me preface this by saying I'm not a proponent of profanity. I don't sprinkle my prose with vulgarity in order to shock or thrill readers. On those rare occasions when I do employ one of those words which offend some people, it's usually because that particular one is the appropriate choice for that character or situation.

Like it or not, people do swear. Some more often than others.

Many of the words condemned as obscene or coarse come to us from Germanic, Latin or Greek roots with rather benign, descriptive origins. For instance, that four-letter word with sexual implications we hear so commonly today, even among children, originally meant "to plow." The interesting thing is these taboo words exist in all languages and cultures.

You don't have to like those words. You don't even have to read them. If such a word offends your sensibilities, skip over it. Just accept these words exist and people do voice them, especially people who might be inclined to commit a crime.

Not that every character in a book who uses vulgarity is a criminal. For some it's just their nature. Lydia Brubaker, Chief Brubaker's daughter in my Sticks Hetrick mystery series, swears frequently. Aside from that, Lydia's a nice, compassionate young woman. Officer Flora Vastine, in the same series, is not given to profanity. Other than a rare hell or damn, nasty words aren't part of Sticks's vocabulary either. Incidentally, since the intent is the same, there isn't a shade of difference between hell and heck or damn and darn. A euphemism can't change the nature of the beast.

For the most part I've refrained from using so-called offensive language in my 19th century stories for the simple reason it wasn't common to the culture as it is today. And it was largely as a result of that repression obscene words came into more widespread use in modern society.

 Some opponents suggest using profanity indicates laziness on the part of the writer; i.e., he could have found a better word. Or might have simply said, he/she swore.


Either is a cop out. The writer chose that particular word because it was the most descriptive. Simply saying the character swore does not reveal the depth of the character's feeling. That's tell, not show.

To deny a writer the use of any word is, simply put, censorship.