I used to be quite the swearer, but as I age, and I find my days filled with the presence of my children, I find myself saying “fuck” much less than I used to. Not that I think there is anything wrong with it, or that I should subscribe to the belief of many religious people that using words the church has deemed dirty is immoral.
But rather, I started thinking about the use of the word after I read this tweet today:
I didn’t agree with it at all, and if you read the whole thread, you will see that most of Twitter, if not most of the world, agree with me.
Fuck happens to be a very useful word:
- Stub your toe on the doorframe? Why say, “Ouch, that hurts!” when you could yell, “FUCK?”
- Forget your phone on the counter? Instead of “Silly me,” why not just say “Fuuuuuuuck?”
- If someone steals your car, you don’t say “Oh my, some thief has taken my car! Whatever will I do?” No. You say, “Fuckers!”
In writing, as in speech, why say several words when one will do? Why would you write in a way that people don’t speak? Real people use slang and profanity, well, most do, and it’s a sure way to turn someone off if you put on airs and use only words you deem safe.
When I am irritated and angry, do I grit my teeth and say “fuck” under my breath? Yes. Do real people do the same thing? Yes. When you are writing with your audience in mind, and you want to be relatable, do you sprinkle the word around and use it for emphasis? Fuck yes!
Know Your Audience
Are there cases where you wouldn’t use profanity? Of course. It all depends on your audience and topic.
If you were writing in an academic setting, the use of profanity and even slang is frowned upon. Even here on Medium, there are cases where you wouldn’t drop the F-bomb, like writing about parenting or children, religion, or even in cases where you are teaching a skill or writing a tutorial. Even those cases are suspect because when you are talking about your kids, a good swear word can emphasize a point you are trying to make.
But in most other cases, it can be appropriate and even welcome to emphasize your point with the F-word. Think about it: could you even begin to describe the world of politics these days if you didn’t use the word “clusterfuck” once in a while?
Not everyone will agree with me. I know I have a least two friends who never, ever use a swear word, and often counsel me against using them as well. But, just like some have their reasons for not using certain words, others have no issue at all with slang or “swears” and we as writers need to be aware of it and write accordingly.
Words Only Have the Power We Give Them
Why are certain words considered dirty? At one time, they were normal words until someone came along and made them forbidden, most likely someone sitting high on a pulpit somewhere. They gave the words power because the surest way to make something popular is to decide it’s immoral and go about banning its use.
Now words like fuck and shit are considered dirty and have power. They’ve made their way into everyday speech, where despite the bible-thumpers, and are used so often that their meanings are starting to change. Fuck only used to mean “to copulate”, but now it takes the place of many other words and phrases. They are normal words for most people, devoid of any dirtiness.
The churchgoers made them immoral, but the people made them useful.
As useful words, we as writers shouldn’t be afraid of using them to emphasize a point or make a statement. The powers that be can go around censoring these words that offend them, but it won’t stop real, average people from using them whenever they wish, and we writers putting them in our books, articles, scripts, and screenplays to be more relatable.
We, the writers, creatives, and the common persons have the power to decide what we say and what we don’t. We don’t have to let a minority decide for us. Using fuck or any other word is never lazy or ignorant.
Fuck is just a word. Not a dirty word. Not an immoral word. A word. Writers, treat it as you would any other word in the English language.