A couple weeks ago, I shared a video of a gorgeous blue Macaw on my page. S/he had picked up repeating What the Fuck from her/his owner, perfectly uttered with the right amount of spice. It was hysterical! However, one reader took the time to let me know how sad she thought the video actually was. No, not because she suspected there might be abuse, but because the royal blue avian had used a swear word. Gasp.
I am not the type of author to ridicule readers following my page, but this made me guffaw. With great fear, I hoped that this person wasn’t an author. In my esteem there is simply nothing worse than a professed author who wars against words—the very things we use to make our art. Such acts are blasphemous, as they slowly chip away at what we can and cannot say. Today the word Fuck is no go, tomorrow we can’t say vagina in mixed company, and on and on until we’ve rolled back to such a censored society that free expression is dead and you will be too if you try to exercise it.
In fact, this individual is an author, who informed they have used words like that in their work. WTF, then?
Swearing hasn’t irked me since I was a girl. I got quite used to using bad language before college. I only slipped twice in front of my parents before I was a full grown adult and it was no longer frowned upon. With age and experience, I have learned to use a wider vocabulary than most, because of my art. At first I was intimidated to go ahead and write it into my work. Sadly, I was writing military fiction and historically accurate fiction that usually only dealt with the company of men in their brotherhood of arms. Swearing and vile language is the culture. Ignoring that, sanitizing that, erases the history and gives an inaccurate picture of how things were. I refuse to do that now, but I was scared what my parents would say, my peers, readers and mentors. I asked a professor for whom I was writing a piece, is it all right to use such words. The response: if it is appropriate to the characters, of course. So, I had to decide if my characters were human or Hollywood. I chose human. After all, writing our stories is about writing the story of the human condition. Yet, I was still afraid of retribution for my selection of words, doing the right thing and telling MY story.
Today, there is no way in hell I am white-washing, bleaching, steaming, or otherwise sanitizing a work to comfort the sensibilities of another person, because telling our story, our history, is too important to seek G-ratings and the approval of the local Decency Committee. Furthermore, limiting the words that I can use is not me telling my whole story. Erasing inconvenient truth is not telling the story. The words exist for the purpose of making meaning and part of that meaning is the emotion they induce. Words frame our understanding. They are tools of communication. Erasing them only serves to disguise and bury parts of that communication, leaving it incomplete if not full of error. I find that inherently dishonest. It’s also a blatant infringement of free speech. I don’t particularly trust anyone telling you what you can and cannot say.
Besides, are we twelve? Are we such babies we can’t handle words because of the feels?
Do I regard authors of cozy mystery, clean romance, Christian Fiction, or Young Adult with derision? No. I regard authors who would censor another author for the use of any word with derision. The writers of those genres that don’t usually make use of swearing are usually writing in a way that matches their chosen genre, and they’re following my professor’s rule: if it is appropriate to the characters, of course. I wouldn’t ask them to add in swearing to satisfy my desire to read it anymore than I would respect a need to go about admonishing other authors for the use of language.
I explained this to my peer, but was met with invalidation and insult. I was called immature and unintelligent, except that I wasn’t the one missing the humor of a harmless pet video. Nor was I the one attempting to shame someone else for posting it, and spread my agenda of a scrubbed down and censored world. Instead, I am an adult, maturely accepting the existence of all words in my native language (and a lot of words in other languages, too). As for unintelligent, I think my foresight of censorship’s end result belies that. My mistrust of anyone wishing to scrub words from the book of knowledge also belies that.
Oh, and then there is this…
I think this would be an edge for an author, not an obstacle.
Since it’s not 1850 anymore, swear on, writers and readers. Swear on.