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What’s your take on curse words in books? The characters in my short stories tend to have potty mouths, and I’ve wondered how my use of curse words may offend new readers. Even worse is the worry of the bad review that will someday appear because my fictional creations are the type of people who use a lot of curse words. Even though I aim to craft insightful stories that capture the goings on of everyday people, my efforts could be disdained by some simply because of a colorful phrase or two (or more depending on the context of the story).


Curse Words in Books: Yea or Nay?

Image of Curse words silenced mouth


What exactly is it about curse words that offend? The famous comedian George Carlin loved to explore the boundaries of language. If you know anything about George Carlin, you know he likes to use curse words, so please don’t say I didn’t warn you if you click on the video clip below in which he makes the following point:

There is absolutely nothing wrong with any of those words in and of themselves. They’re only words. It’s the context that counts. It’s the user. It’s the intention behind the words that makes them good or bad. The words are completely neutral. The words are innocent.


Curse words only have as much power as we give them. How can a writer effectively capture a character who is a racist, a drug addict, or an abuser without giving that character authentic language to speak? In a moment of rage, I know I do not cry “Oh muffins!”


Curse words can reveal a lot about a particular character’s background, mindset, or locale. Some readers feel anxious when they encounter bad language, and I wonder if that drives a significant number of authors to censor the words they give their characters to speak? It’s understandable that authors of young adult fiction generally keep their language clean, but I’m referring to books aimed at adults.


Admittedly, this post barely brushes the wide variety of implications associated with using curse words in books. It’s an issue I’ve been mulling over for a long time, but a recent post on Leora Wenger’s blog Sketching Out titled Fashion and Modesty explored a teacher’s use of questionable language. It struck a chord because one reason I left the classroom is that I write stories so many parents would take issue with.


Most of all, I just find myself wondering why purposely limiting one’s exposure to explicit or suggestive language is considered healthy. I’ve often felt the opposite. The more I can expose myself to harsh situations in story worlds, the better I can understand what makes all kinds of people tick. I guess it comes down to the purpose a reader sets when picking of a book.


What are your thoughts on the use of curse words in books? When do you feel an author crosses the line of good taste, and how do you know?



Photo Credit: Freedom of Speech


Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2016.

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