Expletives! * Expletives! * Expletives!

Rena George Writers 6 Comments

One of the advantages of my new membership of the Crime Writers’ Association is the access I now have to the members’ private Facebook Page. One of the discussions on there at the moment is about the pros and cons of swearing in books.

There was a huge response from authors and I was surprised (and pleased) to discover how many crime writers didn’t think it necessary to pepper their novels with obscenities.

One writer felt mild expletives were acceptable, but frequent course swearing ensured the book hit the rubbish bin. Others listed some best sellers that didn’t stint on the swearwords. So the four-letter words are obviously working for some readers.

Now I love my crime novels, but I hate the ones that depend on foul language and violence to sell a story. To my mind it’s the easy option for some writers who have few character development skills or can’t work a decent plot.

The ones who do scatter the F-word liberally seek to justify it by claiming they’re striving for reality, and that this is how the characters in their books would speak. Oh, really? I’m not so sure.

Is the use the F-word an expression of anger? Frustration? Or just a total lack of understanding of the English language?

To my mind, obscenities smack of violence. I always feel uncomfortable when I hear people swearing.

I was born and brought up in Glasgow, not the posh side; we lived where people had to scratch for a living. My parents never swore, and despite the ‘no mean city’ reputation that Glasgow had in those days, I don’t recall being subjected to foul language from any of our neighbours or wider family either.

Even when I started work in the busy newsroom of a city tabloid newspaper, I didn’t hear many obscenities. I’m not saying the odd four-letter word didn’t slip out now and again, but if any of my colleagues swore in my hearing it was inevitably followed by an embarrassed apology. The journalists in my newsroom were a far cry from the hard-bitten rough diamond stereotypes that were, and still are, so often portrayed in crime novels. I worked with gentlemen.

And bad language was never the norm in any of the other newspaper offices where I worked. The only people who did routinely swear were my female colleagues.

I often wondered why that was, for if these women felt that using foul language was necessary to succeed in the tough newspaper world – or life in general for that matter – well, I think they got that wrong.

What do you think? Should we have to put up with bad language in our books and our workplaces? I’d love to know your views.

Comments 6

  1. I worked in a newsroom in the 1980s where the language was incredible! Mostly from Antipodeans, but no one needed much encouragement. The odd word doesn;t bother me if it’s used for emphasis, but I find that, like anything it is utterly meaningless if speech is peppered with it. It’s also lazy writing. But that;s just my opinion….

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      Author

      If colleagues had been behaving like that around me, I would have hated it. Maybe I was just lucky to have worked with nice people. LIke you, Sue, the odd word wouldn’t bother me, but when it’s every second word then that person has a serious problem. It’s thuggish behaviour, and it appals me.In writing too, it says so much about the author.

  2. Very interesting post, Rena, and a subject I was discussing recently with writer friends. We grew up on the side of the Clyde, me down the coast and one of them in Glasgow. Men swore around the shipyards etc but never in front of women and children as far as we remember. I don’t mind the odd swear word in novels, if it’s in keeping with the character, but I think it’s far from necessary and dilutes the effect of the story if used too much.

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      Author

      Couldn’t agree more, Rosemary. Novels that are full of swearing just turn me off. It detracts from the story. As I mentioned in the post, I grew up in Glasgow, and I don’t recall hearing foul language. Maybe, as you say, some men did use it in their workplaces, but they respected their families enough to leave that kind of behaviour back there.

  3. I am with you Rena – used for dramatic effect, in small doses, for a specific purpose, the odd swear word is ok in a novel but I don’t see the need to fill the page with expletives for the sake of seeming current.
    Of course, I was brought up to think “shut up!” was an expletive.

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      Author

      You were obviously a very well brought up little girl, Deborah. ‘Shut up’ was never said in polite circles. It’s still quite rude, but I can’t see I would object to it in fiction. There’s plenty of other objectionable stuff out there to raise our hackles. Great to find other like-minded people out there.

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