Warning: if you find offensive language offensive, please don’t read this post. Not even the title.
Hey, guys, I think I’ve found an aspect of writing that we haven’t already fished to extinction on Strictly Writing. That’s fucking difficult these days; we’ve trawled the whole of it, from dreaming up ideas to polishing your commas. In case it isn’t fucking obvious enough, I’m talking about swearing. Do you mouth it off in your fiction? Only in dialogue or in the narrative too?
For my part, I keep it to the dialogue. Unless my narrative voice were some young rebel or obvious member of the cussing classes, I would clean up the prose. In fact, looking back at my work, there’s almost no profanity to be found. One of my poems, Bloody Marvellous, is a stark exception. It’s odd really as I’m an inveterate foul mouth in speech, even when I’m alone. This morning I dropped a knife plastered with butter on the kitchen floor and automatically let out a quick fuck. Alone in the car yesterday someone pulled across in front of me and I said, ‘Thank you, wanker.’ I didn’t wind down the window and shout, I didn’t leap out and open his door at the lights, I just recited the little prayer at normal volume for my ears only. It’s what we do, isn’t it?
Long before he became a televisual big-shot I went to see Mark Thomas doing stand-up at The Viaduct, down near Ealing Hospital. I still remember his exegesis on the merits of swearing: ‘It is fucking big and it is fucking clever.’ He also pointed out, irrefutably, that some things are impossible to say without swearing: Richard fucking Branson, for example.
There’s definitely an aspect of diminishing returns when it comes down to four letters. If you fucking swear all the fucking time it loses some of its fucking fire-power. Perhaps that’s because the words are all clichés in their own right. And too much licentiousness looks as if you are trying to be cool, or clever, like using long words.
In my first novel, I am not John Nocent, I held off for impact. None of the characters use bad language at any point in the story until John’s house is surrounded by an angry mob who have built a pyre in the street and are now advancing on his front door. In that situation a little profanity seems apt. He could hardly say, ‘Would you all mind just popping along home now?’ I hoped John’s, ‘Fuck off!’ would ring out into the night street.
Even if I don't swear in stories, it’s been bloody pleasant to give myself free rein across the bastard keyboard for this sodding Strictly post. Perhaps I’ll look for a chance to let rip in fiction too. If I do, there’s one word that I might not be able to use. I won’t even utter it in this hallowed place. I’m afraid to do so, and it’s embarrassing to admit that. After all, we’re writers. We don’t believe in censorship, especially not a censorship of vocabulary. The word in question is nothing special. It’s even used in its Spanish form by certain (well-behaved and respectable) Latin American girls to say hello to their mates. It’s just that, in English, it’s the most potent word I know, and whilst it is more popularly employed by males to insult other males, there is something about it that offends against the female.
The last time I remember hearing the word was from the lips of the actor Neil Pearson of Drop the Dead Donkey fame. We were in the bar at the Old Vic Theatre. The curtain had just fallen on the opening night's performance of the appropriately named play, Cloaca, in which he starred. I had taken the opportunity to give the Director, Kevin Spacey, and some of the cast a little gentle feedback. Neil didn’t agree with me and called me the word we are now too polite to mention. It spiced up the evening wonderfully, his delivery of the word being much more memorable than anything that had happened on the stage. It was his best line of the night. Later I felt vindicated when the play was roundly panned by the critics. The dead duck was duly dropped. Kevin Spacey, I have to say was polite and charming, throughout.
There we have it. Proof that even those educated at the same school as Ian McEwan readily hurl at their customers the foulest language they can scrape up. Does that mean I need to include more of it in my fiction? After all, I enjoy it when I read it.
Now I really want to type that word, so I had better stop.
Don't want to be a xxxx.
I typed it and then my little finger leapt diagonally right to the backspace key to remove the smirch from the screen.
So, am I taking bollocks? Please, give me your views on all things vulgar. I await them with lungs on pause. And when you do comment, make sure that your words are suitably couched in obscenity: non expletives will be deleted.