Back to however many days of writing in reading. I lost a few days there.
I know my world view is narrow. I realize that there are more than two different kinds of kids. But it seemed to me growing up that there were only the two very specific kinds: Kids who swore and kids who did not. I admit I dabbled in the former category, seeing as how my reverend dad taught me all the best swears as he handled household fix-it jobs.
In his lonely battle against a recalcitrant dishwasher or his angry tumult with the toilet plumbing, Dad was a master swearer. It took a heavy dose of Jesus and a heavy liberate arts education for me to learn that swears are best when underused.
Today’s younger writers seem to be in love with swears, especially the mother of them all. The eff word is used as an adjective, a noun and a verb. It is tossed into the essays of many of the well-trafficked sites I read. And I gotta say, I don’t love it. I get a little itchy when someone tweets it at me, even when using it in a good way. I wrote “Hell yes,” on my Facebook wall yesterday; I awoke this morning full of guilt for all the teenagers who might have seen that and be led into the vast unknown of “the kids who swear” club.
That’s not to say I’m opposed to swearing in writing or speaking as a sweeping rule. I simply don’t choose to write that way or talk that way unless there’s a compelling reason. In general, there is no compelling reason to use the eff word as widely as it is used today. I know how this makes me sound. I don’t care.
Which brings me to my point. One of the best illustrations for using swear words appropriately in writing came in Addie Zierman’s When We Were on Fire. She writes about flinching to hear the word as a young evangelical girl, and she does not spell out the word. The reader knows what word she means, and we understand how this would affect her. Later, as she writes about a deep and wide gash in her soul, she uses the word. Spells it out. Employs it multiple times. The effect is jarring, as it is intended. She wants us to snap back like she did. She wants us to hear the vulgarity and the subtext and the simultaneous meaninglessness of it all in one. It is an effective use of the eff word. It makes her point and well.
I still read books and blogs with ubiquitous eff bombs, for plenty of reasons. Still, when I choose to use them, I want them to mean something, to make an impact, to be useful like every other word I’ve chosen to use.
Readers, try this:
Look for swears in texts and decide if you think the choices are necessary. Does using a particular word make a point or is it just another lazy, throwaway word?
Writers, try this:
Do you have a policy about using certain words? Why? What is it? Do you avoid them for fear of certain faith based reactions or do you use them too frequently, thinking an eff bomb for an eff bomb’s sake does the work your words are supposed to do? If you avoid them, why? Would using them change you or your writing?