Fuck, Shit, Damn – The Nature of Cursing

As is obvious by the header, this is a pretty explicit post. And what it’s about it swearing and cursing.

I come from a generation that can say fucking shit motherfucker without batting an eye. We use the word bitch like it’s part of a saturday morning cartoon. I even watched a compilation of Jesse from Breaking Bad say “bitch” in probably several dozen ways. “Yeah! Magnets bitch!” I crack up just thinking about it. It wouldn’t be funny without the bitch. We’re even becoming desensitized to cunt and also (slowly) nigger. Given another generation and cunt will probably be used as often as it is in England and people won’t be embarrassed reading Huck Finn out loud.

My parents on the other hand still recoil from “fuck”. I learned it from them, but that’s beside the point. To them, these words still have a lot of potency in and of themselves. They still have force to make people squirm.

But not for me.

I swear a lot in my writing.

So is it a generational thing? Is the new vanguard destroying words? No.

It’s all about context. When one of my characters swear, it’s part of the fact that they’re college students. It’s not done to excess, but when someone forgets something back at the house they’ll say “fuck me” rather than “oh shoot”. I’ve purposefully let modern usage strip the words down to just being part of language like everything else. Just like in real life how these words are being slowly absorbed into being nothing shocking at all.

But they still have meaning. If I got in an argument and screamed “fuck you” at my roommate, it will be more powerful than if I tell her to go to hell. And in writing too, this is important. For these words to have force they need to have context.

Still, I don’t think that it’s necessary to use swearing to convey forceful messages or even better to. There’s still cursing in the old latin sense, which is literally to hex someone or damage them with words. Before, fuck, shit, damn, curses were strong enough to make someone recoil. Now, personal assaults are needed. I think that this is particularly important for writing. If my narrator in UpMeDownMe told his friend Grace to go to hell in an argument, or said fuck you, it would have some force. But if he told her that the reason why she’s alone in the world is because she’s an emotionally stunted whore that uses sex to trap men because she doesn’t know how to have a real relationship, that’ll hurt more. Plus, you get character development. It goes from a nasty back and forth to something personal.

Fuck, shit, damn are not personal and in my arguments I try to stay away from them. If I really have two people going at it, they’ll just go for the jugular. I do in fact. I have two of my characters resort to throwing things at each other over such a trivial thing as taking the last cup of coffee, but it was bigger in that one person was being a bad friend, neglectful, self centered, even bullying.

Still, when swear words are growled, they still mean something. That’ll never go away. But they have to be used in a personal context in my opinion. They need an extra push to say that they are in fact something to pay attention to.

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