I don’t curse very often. Don’t get me wrong, I can let loose with an impressive string of expletives when properly provoked (like during the recent NCAA men’s championship game.) But these days I’m more likely to exclaim, “Son of a biscuit!” or “What the Smurf?”, expressing my frustration without making a contribution to the swear jar. If you’re ever at a loss, go with Battlestar Gallactica’s diverse “frak.” It’s the gold standard of bowdlerized curse words!
My mother was strict about language and my siblings and I couldn’t even use words or phrases that were acceptable substitutes for cursing. One day I was upset with her (yeah, that happened a lot) and said, “Man, that’s jacked up!” I was grounded from the phone for a week.
The only time I ever cursed in front of my father I was fourteen years old. We were watching Liam Neeson in some terrible movie that I can’t even remember the name of. He was playing an American but his famously floating Irish accent returned full-force with the line “Fock yew, ya focker!” It was so hilarious to me that I repeated it aloud and my father overheard. In my defense, it was Thanksgiving and my cousins and I had been sneaking sips of wine from the adults’ abandoned plastic cups all evening so I might have been a bit tipsy.
Don’t judge me.
Cursing appears in my young adult fiction. During a group writing exercise in college one of my classmates commented that my characters’ potty mouths were too distracting. Mind you, I had used words that are perfectly acceptable on network TV, “bitch”, “ass”, etc. She insisted that her teenage children did not talk that way and it was a turnoff for readers. I almost got whiplash from my subsequent eyeroll. Delusion has no place in a serious critique!
Of course most children (including my classmate’s perfect offspring) wouldn’t talk that way in front of adults and neither did my characters. I was trying to convey authentic voice and using some fluffy substitution would have done the story a grave disservice. Besides, if anyone really believes that young people don’t curse, they need to get out more or, at the very least, watch a few episodes of “Skins.”
How do you feel about cursing in young adult fiction?