To Swear or Not to Swear…

For some reason, a co-worker started singing the Fun Day at the Zoo song. Probably just her way to prove that we have no standards whatsoever. There are multiple versions, of course, but essentially, they’re all obscene. In her defense, she’s actually a pretty good singer.

Early 21st Century American Lyric Poetry at its best.

(Well, not the highest level of entertainment.)

My last project–uhm, you know the one. It’s buried in concrete, somewhere under Chicago–topped out around 85,000 words, three of which were “fuck.” (I didn’t count by hand. The computer does that for me.) And there were similar counts on other profanities.

My current project?

I think the grand total is zero.

That wasn’t a goal of mine. I’m not strapped for cash to put in the swear-jar or anything. (And if I were, I’d probably start a fucking Kickstarter), but somehow… the story hits zero. (Plus or minus a little light-hearted nudity.)

Yup. There really, truly, might not be a single swear-word in the entire thing.

To be honest, I don’t have much of an opinion on the subject. From where I’m sitting, those words have purposes–some of which can’t be served by substitutes, and if that’s the purpose I need a word to serve, that’s the word I’m going to use. If it comes up, I’m also going to use the word “kangaroo”, and not dance around it by saying something like “hoppy marsupial”.

That’s not the only opinion on the planet, of course.

A friend who writes for (some variation on minors) has no particular objections to the words, themselves, but she avoids them because she doesn’t want to give the parents an irrelevant excuse for keeping kids from reading her books.

That never really struck me, because I don’t write for children, and because as a child, I never had problems with adult complaints.

And there are some people who just don’t swear. Habits, or class, or personal beliefs. Whatever.

So, what about you? Do you have a cuss-word quota? A specific reason for profanity, or a clear reason not to? Leave me a comment.


  1. Reply

    I write YA, and I’m always wary of swear words because I’m not sure how much is acceptable. I’ve used ‘hell,’ 11 times in 50000 words in my current project, but that’s about it.

    • Reply

      It’s good to have a second opinion. I’m not a kids’ writer, but I do feel like there’s probably a line in there, somewhere. Maybe a point where the characters become more of a sailor caricature than a solid, 3 dimensional thing.

  2. Reply

    I actually like a nice, juicy expletive. Well deployed, they add spice to life. I don’t go around dropping F bombs after every other word though, that just seems like overkill. Chuck Wendig over at Terribleminds has a really fun take on this. He’s famous for rampant cussing, so of course he’s on the pro-curse-words side.

    Is the fun day at the zoo song something like the Hedgehog Can Never Be Buggered song that Terry Pratchett has in his books? Double and triple entendres?

    • Reply

      Not really double and triple anything. It’s more of a one-track mind (and that’s a dirt track song.) Sung to the tune of row-row-row your boat, it goes something like this: fuck, fuck, fuck a duck. Screw a kangaroo. Finger-bang an orangutan. Fun day at the zoo. (I’m sure you can substitute other animals, and sometimes “orgy at the zoo.”)
      I think you have to let your inner adolescent out to fully appreciate it.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: