I have a foul mouth. Always have. I get it from my mom. She’s adorable. Looks all innocent but then a string of expletives dance off her tongue with such ease that you’re not sure whether to blush or clap.
I wasn’t allowed to swear growing up. I would get in trouble when one slipped, so I became good at knowing my audience. I’m instinctively able to tamp down the cussing with almost no effort in front of people I don’t know well, the elderly, kids (for the most part – my children know I’m proficient), or people in authority positions.
I had a boss for a few years that I got along with really well. One day, when he was no longer my boss, I walked into his office to chat. Mid-story, I had to stop talking because I couldn’t read his expression. I asked if everything was okay and he responded, “Who are you?” With the loss of the boss / employee relationship, the swear-dam had been breached. It took a few days before he could talk to me without exaggerated side-eye or smirking but he quickly reconciled my two sides.
I can’t say I’m proud of my language but I do feel a sense of satisfaction when I spontaneously weave together a colourful tapestry of expletives. These moments are generally followed by brief self-congratulation and a wish that such genius could extend to when I’m writing with non-cussy words.
I’ve read a few articles about the benefits of swearing and especially enjoyed this podcast. The research has diminished some of the shame I’ve carried for my unladylike vocabulary. But, I still think it’s important to know your audience and this is where I run into my writerly problem.
I find myself stalled when I use profanity in writing. I don’t know if it’s because of the outdated wisdom that a person only swears when they’re not bright enough to come up with more intelligent words or, maybe it’s just that I’m too worried about offending someone.
When writing dialogue the other day, one of the characters swore. It felt right, except I struggled later when reading the section over. Was it authentic? Was it my voice or the character’s? Was there another way I could say it without using a swear? Would it carry the same weight and sound real without the mighty heft of the cuss?
Then, I remembered that I’m only on the first draft so, really, these are the things I shouldn’t give a shit about. Yet.