Dropping the Eff Bomb 10

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?

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10 thoughts on “Dropping the Eff Bomb

  • Addie Zierman

    Love this. I used “shit” in a tweet yesterday and woke up full of guilt too? ‘Was that really necessary Addie?’

    I agree. Swear words are definitely best when underused. They’re SUPPOSED to be jarring, a little extra sharp, a little harsh. But when we use them constantly and in the wrong contexts, they lose their power. (The same could be said of some “Christian-y” words, in my opinion — used wrong too often and consequently stripped of power.)

    Anyway, thanks for the shout-out to my book. I’m so glad you felt I used them well. That’s a huge compliment.

  • Margi

    I agree with Addie, and you, on a multitude of levels. I do try not to put swears in writing (IM, Twitter, Facebook, text), though I can’t say the same for what comes out of my mouth. My father was in the military for 26 years and I swear my first spoken word might have been eff. 😉

  • pamhogeweide

    did you see the convo on my facebook page about reading, writing and swearing? quite the rousing discussion erupted when i posted for reader’s thoughts after i received an email from a disapproving reader who did not like my use of one f bomb in one of my blog posts. she is of course entitled to her likes and dislikes…words have power with the F bomb being just that, a messy bomb of controversy. in my world, f bombs and shit piles are part of the daily dialect of conversation. capturing that emotion by punctuating my writing with profanity in places that seem right to me as the writer are choices i make with a clear conscience, knowing full well that some readers won’t like it and some readers will flat out break up with me over it. that’s ok. readers break up with writers for all kinds of reasons. at the end of the day, i consider profanity a palette of emotional color to choose from in my writing when i want to. it’s just art, and sometimes art is crass and unbecomely. just like me and my life.

    love the series you’ve been blogging Jennifer….will try to post more often, i do read many of your posts!!!!!!!!

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      This is a really good point, and one which I make when I argue about the validity of Eminem as a storyteller. And I think in blogging like you do, it’s part of your story. In news pieces, it’s distracting. Jezebel and Dead Spin do this, and it takes away from the often appropriately biting commentary. Often, the idiocy on which they are commenting is punctuation enough. Like I said, I don’t usually mind it, especially when I can see a clear reason. But I do think in certain areas swears have become meaningless in their overuse.

      Thanks for reading, Pam!

  • Bill

    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?
    This is an excellent question, it seems to me, and I suspect plenty of writers would profit from paying attention to it. In my humble opinion, writing that is littered with gratuitous f-bombs, due to intellectual laziness or a desire to force an appearance of edginess, is just bad writing. Likewise, self-censoring the word, even when it is the punch needed to make the writing work, makes for inferior writing too. I think you nailed it.