Bad Words

It is in keeping with the subject matter of this post … and my attitude towards it … that I warn readers that this post contains Bad Words and is also somewhat irreverent.   I’d blame my Inner Curmudgeon but this one’s on me.

bad wordsI am a word guy, that is to say, I love words.   I particularly enjoy the written word in the hands of a master.  I enjoy a finely crafted description but even more, I am a fan of dialog, the kind of gritty conversation that made the novels of Elmore Leonard so enjoyable.  When I was working on my Certificate in Creative Writing, I remember one of the text books noting that good fictional dialog isn’t realistic.  Paraphrasing, the text suggested that we listen to conversation when we were out among the peeps, noticing how disjointed and banal most conversation can be.  The trick, the text continued, is to craft dialog that sounds realistic, like the sort of thing your characters would say but that will hold the reader’s interest.  Not easy.   It should surprise no one that using so-called Bad Words is often part of that process.   A hardened criminal who says, Give me the fucking money or I’ll blow your Goddamned head off, sounds a lot more realistic than one who says, Well, shucks, would you please give me the freakin’ money, right?  So, imagine my mixed feelings when I discovered that there is an app for Android called Clean Reader that edits out Bad Words in e-books, replacing them with empty gray spaces.  Some author spent significant effort on that choice of words being censored.

Because of my age, and, I suppose, because I was raised by a Catholic Mom who frowned on cursing, I have conflicting feelings about Bad Words.  At seventy, I use language that I never would have used as a kid routinely, but mostbad word often when I am with other men.  When I hear a teenager swearing, it bothers me more if it is in front of girls, and even more if the teenager is a girl.   Yet I have no problem sitting in a theater … live or movie … with a mixed audience listening to a barrage of f-words that would have sent my Mom heading for the exits.  Yes, I write f-words instead of fucks in my posts but have no problems having a character say, Fuck you, in a short story.  Like I say, conflicted.

Let me tell you two family stories that will perhaps show the source of my conflict.  I only occasionally heard my Dad use curse words.  Hell and damn showed up sometimes and a fellow named Jesus H. Christ did, too, much to my mother’s chagrin.  One time, my Mom was in the shop where my Dad was a tool maker and she commented to one of the other tool makers that, Frank never uses bad language at home.   To her surprise, the guy she was talking to said, Frank?  Doesn’t swear? then passed what she’d said to the entire shop, bringing on five minutes of laughter.  Apparently, Dad was known for his language at work.   Story two.   My Mom was an avid reader and I had never heard her object to language in the novels she read (language I knew was there because I often read them, too).  But in her later years, when she was losing her sight, she didn’t like to listen to books on tape because, as she said, I don’t like to hear the language out loud in my house. Conflicted.

I’m also intrigued by which words are considered Bad Words and what determines the degree of badness.  Why should nicknames for sexual acts be so taboo, especially when they are so much more manageable than their proper counterparts?   Think fellatio or intercourse.  I actually have a funny story about the word intercourse.  When I was in high school I was at a regional student council meeting with my best friend.  The subject was lack of communication between the students in the college, commercial and general cirricula and my friend raised his hand and said, At East Haven High School, we don’t have any problem with intercourse between the students in the different classes.  Hilarity ensued.   Sorry, back to the subject matter.  Why is it that the bad word for the primary male sexual organ is widely used but the one for the female organ still taboo.  Why is SOB such a BFD?   My Dad told me it’s because when you say it to someone, it insults their mother.  Ain’t that a bitch?   Why is boobs OK but tits not?   I actually understand why people are offended by Jesus Christ used as an expletive, but who the hell is Jesus H. Christ**?  And why is it OK for Oh, My God and OMG to appear literally everywhere when that should offend a wider audience?   I suppose these are questions that will never be answered.

And really, who gives a shit?

** Actually, I’ll answer that, courtesy The Straight Dope, which offers several other answers, too.    This one is the funniest.   H stands for Harold, based on the misquoted line of the Lord’s Prayer: Our Father, Who art in heaven.  Harold be thy name.

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5 Comments on “Bad Words”

  1. Meg Says:

    I am shocked to hear about the clean reader. Didn’t know there were so many delicate ears out there! It would definitely destroy the character of many books.

    • oldereyes Says:

      I have friends who are Mormon in Utah. They have video rental places you can rent movies with all the objectionable material edited out. I’d imagine that makes for a lot of very short movies.

  2. territerri Says:

    It never occurred to me how accepting I am of the bad words in print, but less so when spoken out loud. Not that I can’t be accused of using them myself. Generally speaking, I keep it pretty clean. But at a point of intense emotion, I tend to let some bad ones fly – for effect. And maybe just to get a rise out of my husband. And the older I get, the more bothered I am when others use them so casually.

    • oldereyes Says:

      Hi, Terri. I’m glad you stopped by and commented. I really had some hesitation before I pushed “publish” because I didn’t want to offend my millions of readers. Not really. But, unlike my Mom, it’s easier for me to say the words out loud … in an appropriate venue … than to throw them out there in print in public.


  3. Provocative topic. I guess we all have a personal threshold for bad words whether written or spoken, hence the market for a clean reader app. But hold smoke (there, I censored myself), words are just so powerful that removing any of them certainly diminishes the power of the book and I agree, it takes away one of the main tools an author has for character development. However, I look at spoken bad words differently. If someone I know uses them in our conversation, I usually try to see the emotion behind it to help me better empathize with what they are telling me. My daughter once told me that because I usually don’t raise my voice she uses my choice of words to gauge just how mad I really am. When I hear bad language spoken by anyone in public, well that does bother me. I see an egocentric individual with no concern for the sensibilities of others and those are usually the kind of people I go out of my way to avoid. I had an aunt who used bad words every day, all day, in private, in public and probably in her sleep as well and while she often embarrassed me in public, I loved her like crazy! Conflicted.


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