Sunday, June 27, 2010

Getting to know each other -- Part 1


OK, blog friends. It's high time we get to know one another. Over the next few days, I'm going to tell you a little about myself and then ask you to respond in kind.

I'm going to focus on one thing per post. I'm also going to try to bring the point around to writing, although I can't make any promises.

And tonight, I want to talk about cursing.

Yep. You heard that right. Cursing.

We've all heard that a dirty mouth indicates a small mind and a poor vocabulary, right? But it's been my experience that that's not always true. I know very intelligent lawyers, judges, politicians and teachers who swear like longshoremen. And let's not even talk about journalists.

Me, I swear far too often. And I don't mean an occasional damn or hell, if you know what I mean. I suspect my background has a lot to do with that. My stepfather was a Vietnam combat veteran and an Illinois State trooper. Consequently, I grew up with a houseful of cops. There was much coffee, cigarettes, machismo and swearing at our kitchen table over the years.

I was a police officer in the Air Force before college and then spent many years in a big-city newspaper newsroom. My old city editor (may he rest in peace) swore so much that his assistant fined him a quarter for each cuss word. The coins went into a coffee can at City Desk. It filled up so often that we used the money to buy everyone in the newsroom donuts once a week. And there were fifty people in that newsroom at any given time. Honestly.

True story: The city editor once turned around to face the obit writer and screamed, "Hurry the fuck up!" and found himself face-to-face with a troop of Cub Scouts who were touring the newsroom. He shrugged and fished every quarter he had out of his pocket and dropped them into the can. We had jelly-filled donuts that Friday.

I was thirteen or fourteen the first time I remember my mother saying fuck. My memory is a bit hazy here, but I recall we were in a cabin somewhere in Arkansas on vacation and me, my sister and my ten-month old baby brother were all sleeping in the same room. My baby brother was a notorious screamer and my sister and I were giggling and acting like idiots when the door flew open and there was mom.

"Shut up or I will fucking kill you both!" she screamed before slamming the door. Apparently, she was having a bad day. We were so shocked we didn't even giggle for, like, ten seconds.

Once that thresh hold was crossed -- and believe me, there's no going back -- my mother started swearing like a Marine in front of us. She's 70 years old and still screams "fuck you" at the television when she's unhappy with a show. (She was popular with my friends in high school, trust me.)

The first time I remember getting in trouble for swearing was when I shouted "Goddamn" at the top of my lungs when a neighbor lady found a morel mushroom in her front yard. I guess I was excited. I do remember, however, getting my butt whipped with my father's skinny belt for it.

Oddly, I've found that very poor and very wealthy people swear the most, on average. I know people from lots of money, people who drive BMWs and Mercedes and live in million-dollar homes that say fuck all the time, even to their children. And to this day, it shocks me.

I've also managed to bring my poor wife down a bit, language-wise. She doesn't swear as much as I do, but she's good for some spicy language on a daily basis.

My older boys swear a little around me, although neither started until they hit 18. The 12-year-old does not, since he runs the risk of getting his mouth washed out with Dawn dishwashing liquid (no one uses bar soap anymore, do they?)

I use quite a few swear words in my writing, although only in dialogue and only if it's true to the character. I try not to use them for shock value. But I will admit that I have trouble with a novel in which no one ever swears, since real life just isn't that way.

So how about you, dear blog friend? Do you swear a lot? If so, when did you start? Do you use swear words in your writing? And if not, why not?

12 comments:

  1. I don't swear. Ever. At all. Not even in my writing. On occasion, I'll type *frick* <--- literally f-r-i-c-k, frick, and I've taken to saying crud monkeys/poodle doodle because one of my characters (who is 7) uses both so he won't get in trouble and it's somehow wound its way into my vocabulary.

    It doesn't sound natural and when it doesn't sound natural, it's best to let it lie.

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  2. Josin, I *really* would like to cut back on my swearing, but it's become such a habit that I don't even realize I'm doing it, although I am able to refrain when it's totally inappropriate to swear (like, you know, church or somewhere like that).

    I do like crud monkeys and poodle doodle, however. Maybe I can start working them into my speech, although I suspect if I did, my friends would laugh themselves sick. ;)

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  3. I try not to swear in my actual blogging, but some of the writing I post has swear words in them. In life, I drop the F bomb at least three dozen times a day. It's a noun, verb, adjective, adverb, conjunctive clause... it's so versatile. A good writer uses such words :-) Or an average writer who will never find an agent and sits around in an emo sulk at least three times a day.

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  4. Okay, well I think we both know the answer to that question for me. I swear like a truck driver and yes I use it in my writing. Not as much as I actually use it n real life though. I'd never sell a book that way. I do my best to be mindful of hose who don't swear too much but eventually my true colors shine through. ;)

    I was probably about twelve when I started swearing regularly and my eighteen year old son just started swearing around me. The apple doesn't fall far...

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  5. I swear like a sailor who's been out to sea too long. My mother taught me what the word fuck actually meant and like Christi, it's a versatile word.

    And you're right, I've heard that word come out of an award winning surgeon's mouth at the dinner table with 15 other snobby snobs present. So it doesn't matter who you are, the f-bomb can be dropped by anyone.

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  6. Anytime I was on active duty in the Army, I swore right along with the rest of the soldiers. But when I'm home, the worst I typically say is son of a diddly. The only time the f bomb is dropped is when I'm extremely angry or in physical pain.

    In my writing, I've written damn a few times, but that's the worst.

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  7. I curse all the time in my personal life and my writing. My favorite curse word is, "Motherfucker!" I once taught one of my friend's three-year-old child to say, "bullshit." They weren't too thrilled about that at the time, but the child is now in his twenties and we all laugh about it and he says that bullshit is still his favorite curse word. Makes me proud of the kid! Motherfucker!

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  8. I have a gutter mouth. I cuss way too often. However, not so much when I'm writing!

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  9. I try not to in real life because when you're really mad, it feels great to vent. Curse words lose a lot of effectiveness when they're used in everyday conversations. So if I use one, I'm mad.

    As for writing, it depends on the character. Some wouldn't, some would, and I try to use them appropriately.

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  10. I don't use a whole lot of swearing in my writing but I do swear occasionally. It mostly happens when I'm upset or frustrated. I like to make up my own swears or swear in a different language as well. :)

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  11. I'm late to the party!

    I only swear a lot when I'm angry (read that to mean driving or watching sports), but otherwise I'm pretty low key. I don't mind cursing in the stories I read, so long as it doesn't get to distracting levels. (Stephen King has a tendency to go it a little too far at times) And I do have some characters that curse, especially if they're teenage boys, because they are often the worst offenders!

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  12. Being a teacher who has to constantly exchange "Stuff" for "Shit" in the conversations of my students, I only swear on the page. But my characters are pretty creative with the prolific cussers.

    I used to belong to a writing group where as a matter of course, we read 5 pages aloud for critique. We had a new member on this particular day, a 60ish man in a button down shirt. As I worked my way through a section of my novel he became more and more agitated. Finally, he stood up mid-reading, said the language in my piece was a disgrace and the "HE wrote for PRIESTS". I was mortified.

    But then we all had a lot of fun trying to figure out the kind of literature that would appeal to priests these days.

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