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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

@#%^&*- Is That REAL Language?


This is my SaSR R&R Tuesday post -- not fully a rant but more an extension on the REALISM topic from last week!

So this is my question --- do books need to have all the bad language and cuss words to be considered "real"?  A while back I had e-mailed an author and pointed out that although I really liked the action and plot in her book I didn't like the language.  She responded that it was "real language" with a bit of an indication that I was NOT real!!

I was raised in a pretty conservative home and when I was in high school I was referred to as a "goodie two shoes" on occasion. [Hmmm - wonder where that phrase comes from?]
There was not much swearing at our house that I can recall.  Somewhere along the way I made a conscious decision not to use swear words.  Heck, darn and drat are about as harsh as I get!  I don't even like to say 'crap' even though my kids rooms might have looked like that sometimes when they were teens!  I just don't find the need to use rough language to express myself.  

So needless to say I wonder why bad words have to be so prevalent in books. I understand that there is likely to be bad language in a cop story. [Unless it is inspirational - they manage just fine without bad language!!]  I have read some good PI stories where there is some language but the book isn't peppered with it - just a word or five out of the whole book.  However there are other books where it seems like it is every tenth (or even fiftieth) word and I don't like it!! [And if cops really talk that way all the time I sure am glad I don't have to work around them!!]

Then lets look at contemporaries.... again - I don't like it but I find it more and more.  A couple of months ago I tried to read a fantasy story by a popular author and couldn't get past the first chapter because of course language. I had read several books by another author then I listened to one last year which was a cop story with a lot of bad language.  I haven't been inclined to pick her books up again and may end up giving away a half dozen or so that I had collected. 

I really find it hard to swallow foul words in historical romance!  Okay so maybe the people in the streets would have used gutter language and maybe the gents would have too.  But I would just a soon not read it!

If I have accepted a review book then I will get through it but I am likely to make a note near the end of the review that it contains rough, raw, crude or swear language depending on the severity! I will also not steamy, graphic or explicit sex.  Why do I note those aspects??? Because I think there may be some other readers out there who may want to be forewarned about the language or the explicitness.

I guess I want my reading to be escapism that softens the harsh realities of the world! I like the rose colored glasses!
So how do YOU feel about bad language in books???

Again this week there will be a drawing from all comments made on this post - leave your e-mail please so I can reach you!  I will draw a winner Friday morning to chose a book from the Friday Pick books!


  1. It annoys me too when there is no need for it. Girls in Trucks made me crazy for this reason other than there was basically no plot involved. It was f this and f that every other sentence. It's a sad commentary, isn't it, when an author tells you that is "real life". Is this what we have come down to as a society? Great post!

  2. Hi, Martha! I am right there with you on this one! I was also raised in a conservative home without swearing. I still find it "jolting" to read or hear some of the incredibly foul language which is considered "real dialogue". The worst example of this happened in a contemporary fiction book from one of the biggest publishers in the literary world. This book was from a "home and family" type series, and the twelve year old girl in the story used the "F" word on numerous occasions. It shocked me, not only because of the publisher, but because it came from a child!!! Still not over that one! The other day, I tried to watch a crime thriller on TV. The movie had been highly rated in its theatrical release. The language was almost unintelligible. The worst swear words had been redubbed, and since the story took place in Boston, the accents were thick. I switched it off after about thirty minutes. Great wasted cast in that film. When there are so many wonderful words in the English language, whey fall back on the same foul words over and over?

    gcwhiskas at aol dot com

  3. All my books are dark. The characters in them are dark, gang bangers, cops, killers. I don't hide the violence of damage that violence produces and that's in my books along with the kind of language these people use. I'm not going to have my gang banger, who's done drive-bys, drug deals and jail time in Quentin go around saying darn or shoot. I'd be laughed out of the book store. I don't expect everyone to like what I write, but those who do, want that reality.

  4. I believe the character, immediate action, and genre determine if "swear" words should be used.
    For example, a gangster in a Godfather-type story is shot. Does he grab his stomach and say, "Goodness gracious, I'm shot and will be dying soon"? No, he uses an expletive. "D..., he got me. It's curtains."

  5. Hi Kaye - Yes, it is sad. That sort of repetition will turn me off too.

    Thanks Virginia - Those words coming from a child would be upsetting! So unnecessary! I remember back in the 1980s being shocked the first time I heard "D..n" on TV. It was in the news no less! I don't watch much TV these days and have to be careful about movies too!

    Hello P.A. - Thanks for commenting! Yes, when your characters are in that "community" the language goes with the territory. At least I'd be more prepared for it and accept it better in your books than in a light comedy or especially in a historical novel. I've read a couple where it seems to be just thrown in one or two times - why even bother?

    Hey Carol! You are on point about it fitting the character and action. And that wouldn't require lots of repetition unless it was that sort of character as P.A. points out. BTW - I loved the "It's curtains!" Ha!

  6. HI Martha!

    Clever post! You are so very right. Cussing doesn't add to the value of the book- especially when done excessively. I also like what Carol said about maybe it depends on the characters. LOL As long as the character ain't a foul-mouthed Joe Pesci type goon, I'm good. :)

  7. I agree with Carol. If my heroine was raised by outlaws in a harsh enviornment she is going to swear. I try not to go over the top, but I do try to keep it believeable to the character. If my heroine is raised in a loving, conservative home she will not be swearing and will probably be offened when she hears it. There needs to be balance between staying true to your character and sticking in swear words just to see how many you can. A gangster would probably say GDMF, but if you stick it in once in a piece of intense dialogue, the believability will carry through the rest of the scene, eventhough in reality he would probably say the same phrase numerous time.

  8. It's interesting that you're bringing this up now. I just went through my back list, in preparation for re-releasing them. The language I thought SO essential back in the 90's when I wrote them seemed excessive now. I trimmed back probably 90% of the swearing (and there wasn't a lot). I doubt anyone will miss them and my mom will be SO happy. LOL!

  9. I do not believe swearing is necessary in a story. I recently watched the DVD of Love Story starring Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw to get an idea of a plot for a love story I'd like to write. The swearing in the story was a big turn off and I didn't think necessary for a romance. The music score and wonderful love and of course sad ending saved it for me. We should be able to have a good enough prowess with words and a story line to do without swearing. One of my favorite science fiction writers reverted to swearing in only one of her novels and I couldn't finish it. Her other novels were wonderful and free of that language. In fact I read one of her stories two or three times, something I usually don't do. I don't like swearing, I grew up with listening to it and I guess that makes me sensitive to verbal or written words. Larry

  10. I think, it depends on the character to whom the dialoge belongs. I have characters I can see swearing a blue streak, but others it would seem wrong for them to swear unless under extreme distress.

  11. personally i dont mind cusswords if its expected now do i wanna read the f word in historical romances where alot of their cussing would be modern day polite words just seems off when you read cuss words in it

  12. Mom, I agree completely! That is why I usually read Bethany's Publishing and other Christian Publishers and Authors. I can take a few words throughout the book, but with me, I already struggle to watch my tongue. You know the saying, "What goes in, must come out." That is how I feel about it. Even watching movies now, I realize it and change the channel. It's revolting. I don't think that it is "real language". Sure, A LOT of people use cuss words, but then again, A LOT of people don't. So, it's really up to the author, and the reader on how it will affect them.

  13. About a year ago on a forum I moaned about the high percentage of swearing in modern books and tv programes, and was given short shrift.
    I think you have it right, Martha. If you come across a book you find offensive then you choose whether to strike the author off your wish list in future.
    I am of the HEA brigade and enjoy the escapism of good manners, courtesy and respect. It doesn't mean I like wishy-washy characters, I dont.
    The lack of swearing often creates stronger characters imho.
    Thanks for an interesting topic.

  14. I read a lot of genres. Sometimes I find that if the story dictates it, the swearing fits in, as long as it isn't excessive. But I once read a "romance" that had the "f" word every other sentence, as if the author had to put it there for shock value alone. I have no problem with the swearing in and of itself, as words by themselves do no harm: it is the meaning behind the words and how they are used that give them power over us. If that is how the character would be in real life, then for heaven's sake, don't pretty it up just for the sake of censors. If it fits the scene, leave it alone, and let the reader be aware in some gentle warnings, like many publishers do.

  15. I find bad language very distracting, even if it falls beneath what "offends" me. I think it takes more talent to write around situations where cursing might be "realistic"--for instance, just a note that the character cursed or swore, in pain or angrily, without actually telling me what was said--gets the point across. Books just full of the stuff--page after page--to me show very little literary value or talent.

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  17. It doesn't bother me I have to admit. I was raised in a home where swearing wasn't used, as an adult I do swear a little bit, but usally noly when ive dropped something on my foot or suffered a big fright for example.

    I work for a government organisation that assists people who are socially and economically disadvantaged, which is the larger amount of society I would suggest, and the reality is that that is how people speak. We are lucky sometimes to come from middle, maybe upper calss backgrounds, where we are literate and educated and can read and enjoy these things, but most people aren't.

    So I think swearing does reflect the vast majority of people's reailty and I therefore don't generally have a problem with it, although I accept that perhaps my work has made me a bit immune to it.

    I would object to a book where the swearing was completely and utterly unnecessary, but I haven't read a book like that yet and hopefully I never will.

  18. Hi Sarah - As I mentioned at SaSR there are some wonderful movies, like Jumping Jack Flash, which was just as much fun - more so actually in the TV rated version!! Even the Die Hard type of films don't lose anything for me if the foul language is cut... for my family that is a plus.

    Anonymous - Thanks for your comments. I understand the comments about matching the character and background! I like that you say putting it once can make the point without constant repetition!

    Hey Pauline! That is great that you trimmed back the language! I won't miss it when I read your books! *BG* So cool!

    Hi Larry - I appreciate you stopping in to add a male voice! I had forgotten that about Love Story but maybe that is one of the reasons it is not a favorite and I never choose to watch it!

    Hello Emrlddragon! Thanks for adding your comment too. So, I wonder, if your character is the type to curse a blue streak... does he do it lots throughout the story or just once or twice to get the feel?

  19. Hi SiNn! Thanks for commenting. It is good to be able to agree to disagree right?? But sounds like you do agree on the historicals which is one spot that really irks me! It caused me to stop reading books I had collected for an author when I read a new historical and it had the "f" word. It was only once or twice - so why put it in at all was my frustrated thought! :)

    Hello my daughter Heather!! Nice to see you chime in with comments that make me glow! Good for you! When my review books slow down I may have to borrow some of your nice books! LOL

    Hi Sherry! Good point - I think it does depend which blog site or chat group you have this discussion whether you get positive feedback! I am pleased that this post has gotten mixed comments without any name calling! We certainly don't all think alike nor read the same books! Bet most of us do like the HEA though!

    Hello Nancy! I agree - if it is going to be in there at least give us a bit of a warning! As a reviewer I have stretched myself to read books I might not pick for pure enjoyment. That is why I include the "warnings" at the end of my reviews. Some readers will want to consider that. Others won't mind at all!

    Hey Danielle! I think you have a very good point. It may take more writer initiative to express the anger or pain without the foul words! After all, inspirational authors present bad guys too without using swearing!

  20. Oh, this is so not a black and white issue. Too many factors involved. I think there should be some genres you can pick up and not have the crude words. Those aren't usually the books I pick up as I prefer realism and all that entails. Don't get me wrong. I don't seek out these books. I just don't care if it's there.

    You and I are opposites personally. I was never a goodie anything and I've hung out with the scariest of creatures. With that bit of experience, I can tell is when an author does it as shock value or filler. I feel the author is belittling his/her readers when that happens.

    Hope I am making sense. ;) Either way, you have the right to not want it in your fiction/non-fiction. It's a preference and reading is something we do as enjoyment.

  21. it bothers me some what when swearing is in excess; I don't see a need for that either.
    Is there a warning somewhere so one knows if the book contains 'course language'? Otherwise, one doesn't know until you buy the book.


  22. Hello Becky. I do think that makes a difference - when you have become acclimated to the swearing. I don't like to think it is related to our cultures, but as you point out, it is reality in parts of our society that I don't have to deal with much.

  23. Hey J. Kaye! I know we have a different opinion on this! I appreciate your comments - which made perfect sense to me! Too bad there are those that do it for shock value.

    Hi Robynl. No, unfortunately there usually is no warning regarding swearing in books. The ratings usually are for sexual content not curse words. Maybe some reviews will mention it but certainly not all.

  24. I'm going to have to say that a little bit would be normal but to much is just to much.but I do think some time it's just necessary.

  25. I agree that I don't think it is necessary to make it a realistic book. I mean sure a damn or hell here or there is not bad but some of these people go way overboard and it just becomes too vulgar and quit reading it. It has it's time and place, like erotica.

  26. gah! i agree. sometimes an occasional not-so-bad word is ok... but really, all the language and too many details, it ruins the book!

  27. Hi Martha,

    So Sorry I've not gotten to stop by for a while and comment. Glad I got this one :)! I enjoyed your post. I understand where you are coming from and I see you've already generated some great responses :).

    My take is that I like variety and also consider all things based on the situation on context. Sometimes I'm in the mood for dark, edgy, raw, steamy, etc. during those times I can see where more harsh language fits into the plot. Then again some days I like the lighthearted sweet books, or the toned ones. I view swearing like I do sex and violence, according to the individual plot these things can add intensity to the overall story... however, they should NOT be used to make the story. Nor do I think stories have to feature them for it to be a good story.

    Well just my thoughts anyhow ;).

    Warm Wishes,
    Pam S

  28. Hi Stacey. Thanks for chiming in with your comments!

    Hello Diana. Yep -its own time and place. Then we just need a rating system like movies!

    Hi Haleyknitz. Yes it can ruin an otherwise good book!

    Good to see you PamS! Glad you got to comment on this interesting discussion! Thanks.


    I can handle a little bit of language, but when it becomes every other word it totally turns me off to the book.

    It may be "real language" but we don't all talk like that.

    I always post a warning on my reviews of a book that has too much language. I don't want my audience to be surprised by that.


Your comments are always appreciated!


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