The Top Seven Arguments Against Using Profanity in Your Writing (And Why They're Dumb as Fuck)

Earlier this week, a writer friend of mine shared one of my blog posts on his timeline. Incidentally, this was the same post that first caught the attention of Phil Elmore. It got someone else's attention this time. Here's a comment someone left on that Facebook post.

That one like was from me. I knew then what this week's blog post was going to be about.

That one like was from me. I knew then what this week's blog post was going to be about.

And so I embarked on a mission to discover what it is about "bad" language that gets people so riled up. Here's what I found...

7. It's lazy.

What's lazier than parroting some bullshit your high school English teacher told you fifteen years ago, and trying to pass that off as some kind of intellectual argument?

As many times as I've seen or heard this argument raised, I've never seen anyone show a specific example of what they're talking about, then provide a suggestion on how it might be improved.

"Fuck that. I'd rather just call you lazy."

"Fuck that. I'd rather just call you lazy."

I'm afraid that won't do, Mr. GoGettter. In order to drive this point home, I'm afraid a single example isn't enough. You're going to need to provide enough examples to establish a pattern, and demonstrate that profanity can be singled out as the sole source of laziness.

Otherwise, you're just talking out of your fat, lazy ass.

6. It shows a lack of intelligence and/or creativity.

This is complete and utter horseshit. I don't even know what it's supposed to mean. 

Every time you write a word or a sentence, you are rejecting an infinite number of words or sentences you could have used in its place. There are no true synonyms. Every word or combination of words carries its own connotations in a given context. As a writer, it's your job to choose the words and combinations of words which most closely paint a picture in the reader's mind. If some of those words happen to be the ones which society has arbitrarily deemed "bad", so be it.

By the logic of this argument, you could say the same thing about any word in any sentence ever written. 

In the recently released Critical Failures IV: The Phantom Pinas, a character says, "Randy, you already done shit in the chili."

This wasn't the result of me crapping out the first thing that popped into my head and saying "Fuck it. That's good enough." There are other ways I could have had this character express that Randy had been the catalyst of a situation which was now beyond his control. Hell, I could have said that very thing, but it wouldn't have been true to the character. She isn't the type to say "catalyst of a situation."

I could have gone with, "Randy, you already done scrambled that egg.", but I felt the phrase I chose instead more accurately reflected the character's personality and upbringing.

Comparing those two metaphors, "shit in the chili" is objectively more creative, because "You can't unscramble an egg" is a much more known saying. This would still be the case if the word "shit" were replaced with "poop" or "defecate", which tells us that the vulgarity of the word "shit" is not a means with which to measure the writer's creativity. And your inability to come up with a competent counter-argument lends credit to the writer's intelligence.

5. Because Jesus or some shit.

Naturally, my research into the topic landed me on some Bible-thumping websites, a lot of which liked to quote James 5:12

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.

There are two problems with that argument. The first is that "swearing" in this case, has nothing to do with using "bad" words. This is about literally taking an oath, which makes the Bible an odd choice of text for people to swear oaths on.

"I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and... Why is my hand burning?"

"I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and... Why is my hand burning?"

The other, arguably bigger, problem with this argument is that it doesn't really apply to anyone who doesn't follow the same religion as the person making it.

4. Would you be comfortable with your grandmother reading this?

I'll admit it's weird knowing that certain family members read my work. For this reason, I keep my Facebook author page separate from my personal account, and I usually refrain from sharing my filthier content on the latter.

But extended family members aren't putting food on the table. I've got a business to run.

When I consider my target audience, appeasing the sensitivities of churchgoing old ladies isn't really a priority.

Come to think of it, if you've got the sort of grandma who is constantly sending you racist chain letter emails, one of my paperbacks might be the perfect Christmas present for her. The look on her face!

3. Publishers/Agents won't touch it.

Fuck them. What are you doing groveling at their feet to pocket only 15% of the money your books bring in anyway, when you could be self-publishing?

I'm not arguing that adding a thousand fucks will make a manuscript better. (I'm also not arguing that it won't.) I'm just saying that if you're being pressured to mold your art around corporate bullshit guidelines designed to offend as few people as possible, you're going to end up with network sitcom-grade literature.

2. It's offensive.

This is the same logic offered up by those former Facebook friends of mine who made a big stink about the gay marriage thing over the summer. "I don't like it, so you shouldn't do it."

My answer is the same in both cases.

If you don't like homosexuality, don't put dicks in your mouth. (Or lady parts, for the ladies.)

If you don't like certain words, don't read my books.

But don't go around telling other people what they should or shouldn't be reading or writing or putting in their mouths.

So when I tell you to eat a dick, know that I only mean it as a figure of speech.

1. It's unnecessary.

For as weak an argument as this is, I sure do see it pop up a lot. It's unnecessary. So what? Guess what. The whole book is unnecessary. The Earth was spinning long before mankind started putting words on paper. Life thrived in the absence of literature. Does something being unnecessary make it wrong?

If you can't make your point without resorting to a logical fallacy, then let's face it: You're a fucking moron.

If you can't make your point without resorting to a logical fallacy, then let's face it: You're a fucking moron.

Look at that picture. Someone thought that was wise enough to make into a stylish graphic block o' wisdom thing. The word "can't" is what I take issue with here, and why I'm including the image in this entry. The implication, again, is that a writer uses profanity because he or she feels it's necessary. I can't speak for all writers, but I've never thought profanity was necessary. I use it because I want to.

If you were so inclined, you could write your whole book without using your fingers. You could type each letter with your tongue. Does that mean using your fingers is wrong?

"Honey... Why does the keyboard taste like Doritos and semen?"

"Honey... Why does the keyboard taste like Doritos and semen?"


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