To Swear or Not To Swear…

I know, I know, I’m sorry. That has to be one of the worst titles ever and I apologise profusely. It’s been a tough week (and it’s only Wednesday).

Today we shall be looking at the pros, cons, and random points of swearing in literature, specifically that of the Young Adult variety.I’ll tell you my view up-front, because if you read this blog and the tags I attach to posts you probably already know my stand-point: There is nothing wrong with swearing. Not in the slightest. You can eff and jeff all you like and I will not call you on it, unless you do it in front of a five year old, at which point I might get a bit violent with you.

And that’s the main issue: the hypocrisy of the Adult Types (and me just then). Like me, they perhaps might not swear in polite company simply for the sake of the company (don’t pretend you’re polite, WordPress folks; we all know the truth), but they will also be more than happy to tell someone they don’t like to fuck off, especially when driving. They don’t see anything wrong with their own swearing… but they hate kids and teens swearing.

As you may know, the Adult Types have this dastardly habit of ruling the world and deciding on everything, including what gets published in the novels they read. Often, they’re even the ones that write the novels. Therefore, their word on swearing, sex and drunk-driving tends to go (not that I agree with drunk-driving either, but I’m all for freedom of speech).

A lot of authors who write novels for teens might protect their readership from swearing. Sure, people swear; it would be an unrealistic novel if they didn’t. But if they just write:

Bob jumped about, cursing. “I didn’t see that wall,” he said.

Then they’re home free. They get to make things realistic and safe for the kids that read their books.

I didn’t notice this technique for a long time. I read the phrase ‘he/she cursed’ before proper speech and didn’t compute it. It was just a sentence that some writers used. When I realised it was a non-swearing ploy, however, it pissed me off.

Trying to ‘protect’ teenage readers from swearing is like teaching a pregnant woman about birth control; it comes just a tad too late. The fact is, if the kid reading your novel hasn’t heard just about any swear word you’ve used, then they’re either ‘too young’* to be reading the book or have been home-schooled. Kids in secondary/high school swear. It’s a fact. Worse of all, if you’re writing about teens and don’t have them swearing (at least occasionally), then you’re doing your writing an injustice and you’re lying to yourself about what being a teenager really means.


And now for the other side of the story.

Some teens don’t swear.

I know. I just said that we all do. And at some point in their lives, each and every teen has done so. Some choose, just like adults, not to, because they think it’s wrong. These also tend to be the people who read ‘Christian’ fiction, and so won’t read your sweary-book anyway.

I am cursing myself for my elitism. I am sorry about this, I just get pissed off at the condescension of un-swear-books and that sometimes that floods onto the teens who would disagree with me. I apologise.

I seem to have gone off on one, but my point is this: don’t refuse to put swearing into YA because it will do us good or something. If you don’t put swearing in your novels, do it because your characters wouldn’t swear.

*You are never too young to read a book if it is a book you want to and are able to read. Neither are you too old. I simply meant that your reader is not in the suggsted or marketed-to age-range.


One thought on “To Swear or Not To Swear…

  1. Pingback: I swear… | Writing = Passion

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