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How do you feel about the use of profanity, either in your stories or in what you read?
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The art of specific language uses, somehow, seems arcane to a great many. Every word exists because it carries a certain weight and meaning within its usage. Do you understand the root of profanity? It comes from the word profane, which means it’s secular language. Although words are synonym or even antonyms, it doesn’t mean that they are quite as interchangeable as folks believe. And, as I believe, profanity isn’t offensive, it’s precision. As my dad always quotes: The English Language Is Very Precise.
Clean mystery or cozy romance are popular for a reason, though. We all have our preference. What I find offensive will not be offensive to the next person. It’s all in how we’re socialized, and what we believe (or hold sacred). In complete honesty, although I regularly use words that are categorized as profanity, I use them with purpose. As I said above, words carry both weight (emotional degree) and meaning. You may have heard me speak of signs and symbols before. Well, words are signs and symbols for cultural meanings. Language is a tool of communication. Every single word has a list of both signs and symbols that it carries. The other words in tandem, the intonation, and moment in which it the profanity is used also supplies further context. What a marvel we understand one another!
Miscommunication, as you know, is easy to stumble upon. With all these meanings and unspoken treasures every word carries, I’m surprised there aren’t more misses than there are. Our brilliant minds, however, catalog everything as we grow and learn. Writers are those special members of society who love to work with these tools and create stories to entertain, enlighten, and embolden society. Think about those words. Their weight and meaning are specific to the results achieved.
Profanity doesn’t offend me. I don’t mind it in films or books, or any media. In fact, I’m disappointed these words aren’t used more regularly by newscasters to directly state exactly the kind of emotion a story probably should be making us feel. For instance, asking what is this fuckery, might be a better clue to those watching that something is inexcusably absurd. When you lighten the words, you lighten their load, and they fall short of the mark.
Words are not offensive. I believe that to the core of my being. The meaning behind them (history, usage, potential, energy, actual meaning, etc.) is what offends. We are all aware of no-go words someone should never ever use. Those do not fall under my scale of profanity, however. They fall into the dust bin of we don’t say these horrid things, because we are not those people who would feel or think this way. That’s why I am okay with someone saying they don’t believe in using profanity.
Just as I mentioned above, profanity is a word derived from the word profane. Profane simply means language or words attached to the secular arena of society, non-religious speak; unsacred language. I’m amused that the root is there. If you think about the fact, the implication is that these are words you wouldn’t use before a deity or their emissaries. I bet deities and their emissaries do use profane terms though. Profanity are just words! They’re precise and therefore useful.
When I swear in a book or in real life, it is because that is the correct word to use in that moment and in that sentence to directly express everything I am trying to express (as above: history, usage, potential, energy, and actual meaning). That’s a sign. the usage points you to other contextual factors at play. For instance, the word tells you that I am overwhelmed and need some help. The context also may display shock or upset at something–whether in reaction to something said to me, or something else going on. The meaning could be positive emotions, as well. There tones to the voice, expression, body posture, and other factors that frame meaning. The usage is just common, really. Secular. Profane.
Swearing is an arcane art…
Why profane word use is arcane to a lot of people: too many folks ignore all of this important communication going on, instead just focusing on words said, not all the other pieces that go with the words to paint the entire picture. They either find that a mystery or refuse to acknowledge it for a number of reasons (nefarious or oblivious). Conversely, some folks think that using profanity (profane) language gives them some kind of credential or power, or paints the attitude with which they wish to be categorized. Often, I have found this problem among younger people, who are desperate to seem a certain way to others, edgy or strong, worldly or mature.
It’s laughable that so-called swear words are considered mature. Is it that media featuring such language is usually labeled for mature audiences only? You’d be surprised where we absorb ideas from.
During my undergraduate course work, I recall asking an instructor if it was all right to submit a creative piece that had profanity in it. My fear was that I would either receive a lower grade for the work, or be asked to clean it up, and admonished either way. This is a precarious time in life, if you have come straight from secondary school. You’re an adult, but you’re completely new to it, and not quite considered adult by society. You can’t drink yet (by the end you can) but you can vote to make major life decisions that will affect you down decades, and you can also sign off your life to the nation to be used as they will in the whatever deemed service they find suitable.
The answer was: if it is appropriate to the characters that you are writing, then you may use the language appropriate. This made a great deal of sense to me, but it’s something that many miss. What’s appropriate isn’t just decided by you as an individual. There’s a broader consensus to consider. This is part of learning to think critically. What types of people would use profanity (the profane) in a piece of writing? Easily, we’ll think the bad guy or edge-lord. I honestly couldn’t understand why Princess Leia didn’t cycle some choice words out during her term in Star Wars–film ratings system aside.
You’re probably wondering if my characters used foul language. Profanity, as I stated above, isn’t something I label too many words with. I’d defer to George Carlin’s list. Now, I can’t remember if I have used these or not, but if I did, I used them in Trailokya. And my list is far shorter: 4 of the words. The big dogs of the list, with one of them being shortened to its main offense. I’ll leave you to decide what they are. I’d also add other words to the list that are forbidden, as far as I am concerned, and those are epitaphs that have no business on anyone’s tongue, unless they’re admitting they’re a bigot.
The F-word is slowly becoming a not so bad word to me, too. Put mother in front of it, and it regains some pepper and spice. The rest are not things I’d say before my 4-year-old, but simply because I do not wish for the judgement of others should she repeat the words in school. They’d know where she got her mouth from. There’s no one else here to take that blame. Thus, I take care with the mega words, but not in my writing. Not when it matters to telling the reader exactly what a character is feeling, the type of person they are, and everything else the words sign.
My boys in Blue Honor swear a bit, but can you blame them with all that gunfire and cannons? Carsten, too. I can’t blame him, with all that breathes down his neck. And, so on.
It’s obvious that Morgentus, Dominic, or Jett all use terrible language. It’s precisely meant to convey the filth of their being. Think of when it’s used by them. This is where that arcane knowledge is super useful. Though I may roll my eyes at the usage of certain words by others, it lies in the fact that it feels so forced, fake, and trite. Writers can come off as edge-lords, too. I have similar issues with film and television. Quentin Tarantino is one I can point to, who tries so very hard to come off a certain way by using language to purposely offend.
That is the crux, though. When the energy behind it is to be offensive, to create that abrasiveness, you can really sense it. Unfortunately, that’s super tired. You have pubescents to thank for that. If you haven’t grown past this, it does place you (either mentally or physically) in a certain age. It also suggests less skill with the tools of communication, even a lack of maturity. Yet, if that’s your demographic or goal, it makes sense. Just as my instructor said: if it is appropriate to what you’re doing…
Language is very precise. So much meaning comes with every word spoken and the framework of its speaking. That’s why some folks want cozy books and others don’t. They’re looking for the set that suits their ideological preferences. Oh, you didn’t know that text can be setting? I’ll leave that for another post.
In the meantime, check out the answers the other writers have given time to answer by clicking their links below. We appreciate it!