Words by Holly Royle
Disclaimer: This article contains explicit language.
Does swearing enhance or hinder creative writing?
Swearing is more prevalent in society nowadays than it used to be. Most television shows post-watershed contain swearing from ‘crap’ to ‘cunt’. Even the odd show during the day slips in the odd curse here and there. Music of all genres contain swearing, in fact, most mediums contain swearing. It is however, still primarily frowned upon in society. This is interesting as swear words are ultimately just combinations of letters. Any offence caused by these words does not derive from the words themselves but rather the negative meanings society attributes to them.
Swearing is of course used in everyday life. It is often viewed as being a sign of lower intelligence or a lower social status. In reality, people of all classes and situations swear. People swear in everyday life for several reasons. Some think it’s cool, some use it for emphasis, for others it has become a part of their speech.
With swearing being prevalent in most areas of life, how does it function in creative writing? Does it help or hinder it? Does it change the meaning of a piece of work?
From a linguistic point of view, swear words are very adaptable; they can be used as verbs, adjectives, nouns, exclamatives – very diverse really. When used well in a piece of creative writing, swear words can add an extra emphasis and display strong feelings of emotion.
An excellent example of this use of swearing is Philip Larkin’s poem, ‘This Be The Verse’. The poem opens with:
‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad’
This emphasis is incredibly powerful. If swearing was not used, this line would not make the impact Larkin desired. The first line of the second stanza also includes swearing:
‘But they were fucked up in their turn’
This again adds a huge amount of impact to the line. The harsh sounds of the plosives /k/ and /d/ give extra depth to these lines. Larkin only uses swearing on these two occasions in his poem. The minimal use of these words creates a greater effect. Works that contain swearing throughout often lose the initial emphasis; the more swear words are used in a piece, the more their shock factor decreases.
Swearing can increase the impact of creative writing – understandably some find the use of these words offensive however, surely that is part of the effect. The taboo nature that surrounds these words creates a rebellious element to them.
Here at Foxtrot Uniform we are completely accepting of writers including swear words in their writing for it is a freedom of expression. Yet we also accept clean poems.