Are we living in an Age of Profanity? Younger people admit to using bad language more often than older people; they also encounter it more and are less bothered by it. The AP-Ipsos poll suggested that 62 percent of 18 to 34-year-olds acknowledged swearing in conversation at least a few times a week, compared to 39 percent of those 35 and older.

More women than men said they encounter people swearing more now than 20 years ago — 75 percent, compared to 60 percent. Also, more women said they were bothered by profanity — 74 percent at least some of the time — than men (60 percent.) And more men admitted to swearing: 54 percent at least a few times a week, compared to 39 percent of women. Wondering specifically about the F-word? Thirty-two percent of men said they used it at least a few times a week, compared to 23 percent of women.

“That word doesn’t even mean what it means anymore,” says Larry Riley of Warren, Michigan. “It has just become part of the culture.” Riley admits to using the F-word a few times a week. And his wife? “She never swears.” A striking common note among those interviewed, swearers or not: They don’t like it when people swear for no good reason.

Without a doubt, there has been a rise in crassness. Culture is frequently renewed from the fringes and let’s face it, the fringes have become more mainstream. I know folks who use their naughty words to shock or show how hardcore they are, ironically missing the fact that frequent use of their (limited) hardcore vocabulary lessens the impact of the words.

I’ve wrestled with the idea of “bad” language as a writer and as a Christian. This came up recently when a friend of mine told me that he doesn’t cuss like I do. My offending language: how often the characters in my stories cuss. I know that writers typically hide behind the wall of “being real” or “being true to their characters” and that’s fine, but if we wrote how people actually spoke, it would make for quite the tedious dialogue. I like what Gary A. Braunbeck had to say on the topic of profanity:

First of all, unless you’re writing Christian YA (and even that’s up for debate), it would be unrealistic to write a novel or short story wherein one of the characters didn’t swear at some point; our lives have becaome much more fast-paced and frustrating, and a result of that frustration is that people swear more now than they did, say, back in the days of Booth Tarkington’s Magnificent Ambersons.

However (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), there is a difference between the way people swear in real life and how they should swear in fiction. I know a guy who would have a full one-third — if not half — his vocabulary hacked off at the knees if he were unable to say f**k. I’ve passed strangers’ conversations wherein I picked up at least nine different profanities before they were out of earshot.

I remember one instance, while reading Skipp & Spector’s The Light At The End, where in a single line of dialogue, one character used eleven profanities — including all of the Biggies — in one sentence; it was rather impressive…but it was also way too much. Yeah, I have no doubt that there are people out there in the real world who do speak like that, but (and here comes the tip), if you over-use profanity in your dialogue, you rob it of its most important function: profanity is simply violence without action; it should be employed in fiction to either foreshadow or replace violence. If you follow this suggested guideline, you’ll not only use less of it your writing, but what you do use will be so well-placed that it will have ten times the impact of an endless string of curses.

A youth pastor at a church I attended heard that I was a horror writer and wanted to read some of my stuff to try to relate to me. He enjoyed the stories, but said that they would be more effective without all the cussing in them. Ironically, he said his favorite one was the one without cussing, my story “Family Business”. Well, that story takes place in Jamaica – words like “bloody” and “bomboclot” got used quite a bit, but he didn’t recognize them as cussing.

Part of the issue is that we attach stigma to words, deciding is vulgar. Sometimes it’s about cultural context. Let’s face it, if I say “bloody” or “bomboclot” in front of you guys, you’re probably going to think nothing of it, or be mildly amused. However, if we were in England, “bloody” is like dropping the f-bomb; and if we were in Jamaica, well, I’ll spare you the connotation of “bomboclot”.

Since I don’t want this to go on forever, I’ll stop here and pick up with cuss words in the Bible later. Especially since right now, all I’m reminded of is the comedian who said “For cripes sake? Who would that be? Jesus Cripes? The Son of Gosh? Of the Church of Holy Moly? I’m not making fun of it. You think I wanna burn in Heck?”

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