November 16, 2010

The following conversation is not made up. Therefore, I wish two things.

  1. That it actually was fictional.
  2. That I had not had the misfortune to hear it.

The conversation went something like this:

“S*** man, this line is long.”

“No f***.”

“Are you f****** with me?”

“You’re already f******, man.”

“No, you’re f*****.”

“You’re f*****.”

“You’re tripping.” (Pause) “F***, this line is long.”

And that’s why I don’t tend to swear, either in my writing, or in my day-to-day life. At least, I don’t swear as often as these two. While I stood behind them, feeling my ears bleed, I mused about this a little (it was better than paying any more attention).

Swearing may have its time and place. If you accidentallly smash your thumb with a hammer, or are enjoying your warm blankets when you remember that important meeting for which you were supposed to wake up early, then yes, swearing is perfectly understandable, and probably quite healthy in the circumstances. It’s cathartic- a way to vent rage/pain/frustration without hurting anyone or anything.

For me, the problem comes when every other word is a curse. The impact’s lessened by using it so often. It’s like eating too much sugar. Your cells get desensitized to insulin, so you have to make more, which makes them more desensitized, until they stop responding at all. By the time that happens, you’ve got a word that no longer works for you, but annoys everyone around you… because it still works for them.

Not to mention the fact that I always wonder at people’s vocabularies when they have to swear that much. The constant f-bomb shellshock not only alienates your listeners (willing and unwilling), it leaves a sense of inarticulateness and begs the question: can’t they find some better way of expressing themselves?

All which explains why I try to refrain from swearing excessively myself. For those “hammered thumb” moments, I’m quite fond of the word “Curses!” As for my writing… some characters would swear more, some less. If it’s in character and necessary to the scene, I won’t censor it. However, that happens exceedingly rarely- I refuse to include “bad words” purely for shock value.

My genre makes it difficult, too. Different cultures = different oaths, and it’s challenging to come up with ones that don’t sound ridiculous. It can work in the odd case. Like “frak.” But even “frak” can be hard to take seriously. It’s like watching a great, epic film when the hero touches the scrape on his cheek, glares at his rival, and says, “You’ll pay for that, you fudge-muffin.” Since most oaths have religious roots, I will occasionally go for something like “By Ael,” but again, I try to be sparing. Anything sounds ridiculous repeated ad nauseam.

At best, a good, short curse cuts through the pain of a stubbed toe or jammed finger. At worst, it makes everyone cringe awkwardly.

Words are powerful. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like they shouldn’t be misused.



One comment

  1. I’ve overheard that same exact conversation . . . several times. Ack!

    Such a sloppy way to communicate by saying NOTHING.

    A well-placed curse can be an attention-getter or a punctuation mark . . . but a string of them is as boring as reading someone’s grocery list.

    Thanks, Arvik.

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