On Swearing In Writing

April 3, 2017 | By | 12 Replies More

I have a potty-mouth. It’s not a bad thing.

For a long time, though, I was ashamed of what came out of my bazoo. Why couldn’t I be demure—ladylike, like the fairy-tale damsel?

It’s not as if I didn’t try to make nice. We bobby-socked baby-boomers were groomed to. Still, I just couldn’t ‘do’ pink and meek and froufrou. The cardboard cut-out ingénue from fairy tales pissed me off. As a child, I may not have known the meaning of ‘grow some balls’, but I had ’em; she didn’t!

My propensity for obscenity became clear a few years back when I joined a writers’ website. Members submitted poems or short stories and reviewed each other’s work. One priggish reviewer took me to task for my use of ‘fuck’, sans asterisk, in a poem:

‘Your poem would work just as well without the swear word. It doesn’t need to be there, you know!’

This sent me into a horrible shame spiral. (Hey, we writers are sensitive like that.) But it’s where I became better acquainted with my muse: Baubo, the ancient Goddess of Obscenity. Her habitat? The deepest reaches of psyche. Psyche’s gutter level, if you will.

Goddess Almighty!

Baubo and I had a tête-à-tête. Our monologic dialogue (or dialogic monologue) helped me understand why my books are liberally sprinkled with swear words (and double entendres). I got that my colourful language is not contrived, and it’s not there for shock value. It comes naturally. As a reader myself, I find an orchestrated use of foul language off-putting. Cerebral sludge. But when it’s natural—when the word feels like it should be there, the sentence would be poorer for its omission.

I became more accepting of my locker-room lingo—even started to love my muse. Beats being driven by a harpy, the archetypal mythical bird-woman that swoops and poops on others’ stuff.

With all this in mind, I responded to the sanctimonious critic:

‘Oh, yes it does. The word needs to be there. My muse gave it to me … and I respect that.’

Holy Shit

As writers, who are we to censure and censor our muses? They speak from the core of our being.

And I’ve learned a lot about this goddess, who is a personified aspect of the human psyche—that of sacred sexuality; passion. She has the whip hand in mine, but she’s in all of us.

Baubo embodies a holy kind of dirty. She’s not housebroken, nor should she be. You just know when she’s escaped the moral straightjacket. It’s in those moments when you’re doubled up with laughter of the raucous kind: when you’re screeching, hooting, holding your splitting sides, and damning your pelvic floor that’s been undermined by dry rot!

The dirty goddess represents a vital power, a heat, medicine that helps us loosen up and lighten up. Gut-busting laughter can bring us out of a funk, and give us some relief through life’s big or little tragedies. And what’s tragic, or at least, a crying shame, is a woman shaming another woman’s innate, earthy expression.

Thing is, when you deny one aspect of soul, the whole of you suffers. And the female collective suffers—sisterhood and daughterhood.

Women’s Writes

Raw obscenity shakes off the shackles that have bound women’s expression (and their sexuality) for eons. And writing is a powerful tool to help us, and others, achieve that. Give depth, I say, to the stereotypical female protagonist of newfangled ‘fairy tales’: she, whose romanticised quest for perfection first pumps us up as she fights her darkness and rises above it—Yeah, baby!—then deflates us—FFrrrrrrrrrrrrrr—as we drown in ours, war-weary and cursing our fate. But … it’s that little bit of cursing that both comes from Baubo and summons her.

We need to uncover this buried immortal, and immortalise her in writing. It’s very grounding to lose the ***s in your eyes and the ***s in your words. You might be regarded as less of a lady, but with an important aspect of psyche fleshed out and given its due, you’ll feel like more of a woman.

I Am Woman

In 1972, Helen Reddy released the song ‘I Am Woman’. The first line, I am woman, hear me roar, became an enduring anthem for women’s lib. Now, 45 years on, perhaps it’s time for a new anthem, or, a revised one. Not just to reflect cultural shifts, but also to celebrate the obscene, life-giving goddess at the core of our womanhood.

Here’s a suggestion:

I am woman, I swear, and I don’t fucking care!

Paula Houseman has a fascination for the primitive forces at work in the modern human psyche. In particular, those driving our reckless impulses and immoral thoughts!

Studying linguistics and the sociology of health helped her unearth a curiosity about words—their original fullness; and how usage of the many in their current, dried-up state can shape a limited reality.

All this poking and prodding and fossicking through words awakened Paula’s muse, the ancient goddess of obscenity, who had a few choice ones for her! And memories came back: a childhood reality shaped by this earthy psychic force—channelling ‘full-bodied’ words that often landed her in deep shit!

This muse, who’s back for keeps, is at work and play in Paula’s books, the coming-of-age satire and Amazon #1 Bestseller, Odyssey in a Teacup, and the romantic comedy, Apoca[hot]lips. The goddess is now in the process of juicing up Book 3 in the series.






Category: Contemporary Women Writers, On Writing

Comments (12)

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  1. Sue says:

    The problem with incessant swearing (whether in writing or in speech) is that it fails after a while to be anything other than wearing for the reader/listener.
    I’ve just read a 700-page sci-fi novel which has one single solitary instance of the main character swearing. The fact that it was that one single solitary instance made a much better job of conveying the character’s sheer out-of-options end-of-tether state of mind than it would have if the character had been using gratuitous swearwords throughout the text. Because once your character (or you) lazily and thoughtlessly pops out the F-words every other sentence, where do you go to convey that you really, truly, have had enough/are about to die/are terrified?

    • True. Swearing should be ‘seasoning’, not a key ingredient. Too much, it overshadows the story. And when it’s contrived and too much, it’s offensive and boring! Thank you for taking the time to read and comment 😉

  2. I swear in my books. Well, my characters do 🙂 I’ve received reviews with people upset about it!

    • Oh, I am speechless … not even a swear word! How do people get through life if their sensibilities are such that they’re offended by a fictional character’s colourful language?!

  3. Victoria Hay says:

    Thank you!

    Like you, by nature I use earthy language all the time. Not in a sludgy way…it’s just that if a word is called for, I use it. Reflecting on this habit — which came out of nowhere, since my parents were nicey-nice on the issue — at about the age of 14 it occurred to me that no word has ever picked up a stick and bashed anyone or aimed a pistol and shot anyone, and so there really is no good reason to suppress specific words that have meaning and power.

    If someone’s offended, then that person will never be my friend anyway, and I don’t much care whether she or he approves.

    • Indeed. And how amazing to have that insight as a fourteen-year-old! Words don’t offend; word usage can. But then, there are those who’ll misread whatever you say regardless of your intentions. Like you, I don’t much care.

  4. Jeanne Felfe says:

    Well put. I totally agree that “an orchestrated use of foul language” is off-putting and cerebral sludge. I’m not sure why some authors toss foul language around like so many pennies in a wishing well, with no thought for their impact. It’s a bit like the use of the “!” – used sparingly and in the right place it imparts the perfect touch. However used in every other sentence, it becomes boring and has no real meaning. An appropriately dropped F-bomb can shift the entire meaning of a scene and can often provide more characterization that a hundred words might.

  5. Christine says:

    A thousand fucking times yes!

  6. LG O'Connor says:

    Hallelujah, Sister!

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