“Words,” Editing, and Tastes

When I was young and poor, one of my roommates was a conservative Christian. She had one of those set-top boxes for the TV which was supposed to block swear words. It ran off of the closed captioning, and basically muted the TV for the entire time the word was on the screen. Mostly, it worked. You didn’t hear the swear.

But you didn’t hear any of the other words that happened to be on the screen at the same time, either.

It would miss typos. So, if the “word” was not spelled correctly in the transcription, you’d hear it.

And if the captioning wasn’t synced up to the audio, you’d hear the “word” and then silence. Or silence, followed by the “word.”

There were about two hundred words on the naughty list. I never figured out exactly what they all were.

They were exclusively American “words.” That always had me rolling on the floor. If you were listening to Brit-com, you’d be hit by a row of obscenities that would curl your hair, followed by silence when they finally hit a relatively mild “word” the box knew. (Kudos to the BBC for well-synced closed captioning, by the way.)

And some of them were ludicrous. Cinderella could go to a ball, but Lydia Bennett most certainly could not go to two or more balls. That would be obscene. And no, it didn’t matter in the slightest that the thing turned Pride and Prejudice as a whole into a roaring comedy.

I’m not quite that finicky. Refined. I figure three or four “fucks” to a manuscript and poor Lydia can have as many balls as she wants. It’s not a swearing extravaganza, but I also don’t have a set-top-box to keep it out.

Still, the experience did leave a sense of utility. Does this word change the meaning of the sentence? Can someone follow the story without that word? With a different word? I suppose Lydia could go to cotillions or something…

And I could say “very.” Very is indeed a most excellent intensifier.

The truth is, I don’t write for children, and I think I’m pretty moderate, anyway so I’m not all that worried about it. I do notice if I go over my average for the big ones. An I have other words I over use, and I’m always on the lookout for them.

Do you have to think about this? Quotas or guidelines? Or do you have a hard ban on profanity in your work?