Profanity

by: Philip (Norval Joe) Carroll

I’m at the national assembly of the American Orthotic and Prosthetics Association. It’s in Las Vegas and ends tomorrow afternoon. I’ve learned a lot and changed a few paradigms that I have hung my beanie on for the last twenty six years. (I hope no one I work with reads this…what am I saying…NOBODY reads this anyway.) But I had more fun at WorldCon. The people are completely different.

Don’t take me wrong. People in my profession are accepting of others, especially with disabilities. But one of the things that struck me most about WorldCon is the open acceptance of people by others. Everyone seemed on an equal plain; author, publisher, and a wannabe like me.

But here, I see people I have known for years, some on the boards of million, or billion dollar multinational companies, some on the boards of our professional organizations, some are owners of multiple facility chains, and others single practitioner owners of ‘mom and pop’ type shops. Many of these people deserve respect and I respect them. Then there are thousands a whole lot of people trying to impress themselves or others. Sales reps, recent graduates, and average joes.

Oh, well.

I don’t think that I will ever give up the day job for writing. I don’t think that I ever would want to. I get to work with little children, born with physical disabilities, and help them learn to walk. I work with them so they can sit, and stand and take part in activities at school, home and at play. Can writing be more rewarding than that? I don’t think so. Not in the same way.

Anyway.

I was sitting in a session about Talipes Equino-Varus when Jeff Google+’d something that got a lot of response, mine included. I’ve posted about this before in Twitter and on Facebook, but I don’t think I have really brought it up here, so I’m going to do it.

“Profanity is the Counterfeit Currency of the Bankrupt Mind”

I heard that saying when I was young. I pondered it, and it worked for me. Just like money that looks impressive, but in truth, it is valueless, because the issuer doesn’t have the value to back it, needless profanity is used by the person that doesn’t have enough mental deposits to come up with something of actual value.

I’ll carry it a step further in a bit.

I’m sure I will offend many a writer by my dogmatic prudishness (Being a tight ass) in saying their writing is mindless drivel (shit) because of the use of foul language.

The first argument in defense of such language is as Steven Kings purports in his book, ‘On Writing’, which I agree is an excellent book. (It motivates me as a story teller to improve my craft.) However, I disagree when he says that, to be an honest writer, if I have a character who swears, I must write him swearing.

My first response is, I don’t write characters who swear (at least not excessively). You probably won’t like my writing. I wouldn’t be surprised. Much of what I write is for ages 11 to 16. I really don’t want to encourage swearing in a group that is susceptible to it in the first place, and would be better served reading words they need to look up to understand. I don’t like movies about gangsters, low lifes or idiots (those with bankrupt minds). I’ve never seen ‘The Godfather’. You might say, “Oh. But that is a classic.” I don’t respect or admire criminals, especially those in the syndicate. I don’t want to lend them any legitimacy or support by my patronage of those who emulate them.

Secondly, there are many authors who have written about characters who were coarse and from lower society. Characters who would have naturally used similarly coarse and foul language. Were these authors dishonest to their readers? Names like, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, John Steinbeck and even Ernest Hemingway. Dishonest posers! Every one of them.

The other popular argument is that swear words are just words and you need to accept them as such. I’ll refer you to the Grammar Girl podcast episode #235 where she addresses swearing. She points out that swear words are processed in a more primitive part of the brain that processes emotion and that when we hear or use those words, it illicit’s an emotional response.

I think most writers and editors agree, the overuse of any word is a sign the writer lacks creativity, whether it is using the word, ‘that’, ‘phenomenal’, ‘suddenly’, or your favorite swear word. However, in my mind, as I pointed out in the google+ discussion, if an author overuses profanity he or she is using such language to elicit an emotional response to compensate for the author’s lack of creativity.

Finally, I had a coworker for many years who said there was power in his single expletive. He said, “I can use it to describe everything.” And he would, good or bad. I tried to convince him that strength in language comes not from using one word to describe everything, but in having many words to add depth, breadth and texture to our communication. He told me to “F” off.

Philip ‘Norvaljoe’ Carroll is a certified orthotist in the central valley of California who uses the word ‘crap’ unoriginally and way too often.

2 Comments

  • Scott Roche says:

    I use profanity in what I would consider a “judicious” way. I consider the audience and the characters and writer accordingly. I agree to a point that there are authors who rely on these sorts of words too much, but to ignore them in their entirety would seem to be ignoring some colors in the pallet however ugly those colors might be to our eye.

  • since I think I was that made the stink about this in the first place, I think it is only fair that I comment on it again. There are a lot of words out there. There are multiple meanings of many of them. Philip points out one in particular that a lot of people use all the time, and some people use it pretty much exclusively. These are the authors I was talking to when I wrote my original G+ rant. To me it is like having a tool box full of tools and always reaching to crescent wrench. Don’t get me wrong, some times you need the crescent wrench, but 90% -95% of the time you have a better tool available. You should not ignore this rather useful tool, but if you over use it, you tend to round off nuts and damage hardware. I feel the same what about the over use of profanity. I also feel the same way about writing characters who over use profanity. They tend to be less that interesting, kind of rounded off nuts that are not useful for anything but their current lot in life, be that holding something in place or sitting at the bottom of a jar of other rounded off hardware. With that being the case, if they are not interesting to me, why would they be interesting to a reader. They might be an interesting person to met on the street one day, as you are walking by, but once they are out of earshot they are quickly forgotten. And if they are that quickly forgotten why write them in the first place.