Saturday, May 28, 2016

a discussion on swearing in books

I once explained why swearing should be eliminated from fiction. While I would still happily trim all those four-letter words out of books (except that defacing library property is a naughty thing to do), I've been pondering this subject recently. I had a good discussion about it with my brother, then with blogger friend Emily, and later with my writer friend Sarah. And I have come to the stunning conclusion: It's not quite as black and white as I would like it to be.

I'm here today not to draw any concrete conclusions, but rather to weigh both sides and discuss it with you all. Fair enough?

swearing in books: what makes it undesirable

* Some of us just aren't comfortable with foul language. Why should we be subjected to it in a novel? I've started to read some great books that I ended up putting down because the amount of profanity was more than I wanted to endure. I think authors should thoughtfully consider the section of their audience they're driving away with their content. Those who don't care how many f-bombs litter the page will still read your books even if you clean them up, whereas those who do care will be very thankful. Listen to the dollar signs, if nothing else.

* In some cases (not all), it's lazy writing. In these sorts of books, the characters seem to have a limited vocabulary, 50% of which is profane. Even the narrative is sprinkled with it. Yes, I understand that that particular word is an angry one, but I would appreciate your art far more if you used some creativity to convey that anger. It takes more writing muscle to vividly describe someone seething with rage or moping in misery than it does to plop down a four-letter word or two. (Or a blue-streaking seven.)

* I could go on, but most of my other reasons are close siblings of the first one. Because of my faith and because of personal preference, I just don't like language, be it in a book, movie, TV show, or real life.

swearing in books: what makes it okay

It can be realistic. I loved Maggie Stiefvater's The Raven Boys, but the characters, particularly Ronan, swore more than I expected them too. Being rough around the edges, all tough exterior and shaved head and independence, Ronan's language was in keeping with his character. He's kind of the bad boy. I have to be honest: there are just some people that wouldn't realistically shout "oh pumpernickel!" when they spill hot coffee over their lap. If writers are meant to reflect life accurately, then perhaps a measure of realism in the dialogue is acceptable?

* In a very select few cases--of which I'd be hard-pressed to name, but still know they exist--there's no other way to say it. Let's imagine a scene showing the aftermath of deep evil or the heinousness of a crime. The most fitting words to describe those evil people and their destructive deeds are not PG-rated, people. (These days, maybe they are, but that's another topic altogether . . .)

*Again, I could go on, but the rest of what I have to say is best discussed . . . as an actual discussion, instead of in point form.

so what are we to do?

On the one hand, many readers and writers find swearing offensive. I am one of those.

On the other hand, I write about things I don't agree with, and no one is under the delusion that I approve of those things. I have characters with different mindsets than I do. I have characters who lie, steal, manipulate, betray, lust after power, burn people at the stake, and strive to conquer worlds. And yet I do not condone any of those actions, even if some of them are done by protagonists who are struggling on their journeys. So why should swearing be different?

Maybe it's because we can read about someone lying or murdering, but we don't truly experience the telling of that lie or the murdering of that person. But when we read a swear word, it's just as bad as if we thought of it ourselves or spoke it aloud. Swearing is a verbal/mental sin, right?* It's one of the few that can be communicated fully on the page.

*(And while we're at it, can any of you point me to Bible verses on the subject of language? Beyond one of the Ten Commandments being "Do not take God's Name in vain." Because most swearing doesn't invoke God's name at all. I'm interested in doing some further study.)

BUT. I easily forget that non-Christians don't 'play by the same rules,' if you want to put it that way. To me, swearing is wrong, but to a lot of people, it's simply not an issue. How can I expect them to censor their language if they don't believe it presents a problem?

On another note, intended audience is a big factor. Please do not put foul language in a book written for twelve-year-olds. I don't care if they may be hearing those words at school already--some of them still have innocent eyes and ears, and I would hate for a book to introduce them to something better met at an older age.

But what about adult fiction? Or even YA? (As a reader, I consume both, as I imagine lots of you do.) These readers have heard plenty already, unless they live in Antarctica with speechless penguins. Does exposure justify the continued use of language? Is it a matter of maturity or of principle? Or both?

To some of you, this probably isn't a big deal at all. I understand that the public school system is good at desensitizing people. Really, though, the secular world at large is good at it. As a homeschooler raised in a Christian family, I was not exposed to the same volume of profanity during my childhood as many public school students were. Emily pointed that fact out to me, and it's true. Not that I was some unsocialized little stereotype who bathed in hand sanitizer after setting foot out in the big, bad world! I was simply in an environment that didn't involve anything much worse than 'crap.' Now, as an adult in the workforce, and as a person whose media intake has expanded, I hear and read more. Not that I like it, but it's reality.

So. Should we read books that contain swearing? I believe that's between you and God to decide what you can handle (or what you want to handle). Should we write books that contain swearing? That question is even more muddled with grey than the first. And I did say I wasn't trying to come to any solid conclusions just now.

But I will say that, no matter the answer, a few things need to be thoughtfully and prayerfully considered.

  • the audience
  • the context of the swearing
  • the intensity and frequency of the swearing

For me personally, there may come a day when I pen an adult novel that calls for a restrained measure of language. I can't imagine myself ever laying it on thick. At all. I'd rather leave it at a non-scarring, "he swore" and be done with it. But a few deliberately placed words, for the right audience, in the right context, might happen. I honestly don't know. I still wish the issue was as simple as attacking every novel out there with a black Sharpie. We all know it's not, though.

In lieu of a real conclusion, I leave us with this:

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.

Philippians 4:8-9 (The Message)

So what are your thoughts? It's a tricky matter, and I want to hear your take on it.


  1. Excellent post! As a reader, I don't really like swear words. I do get that sometimes it's to keep character or the atmosphere of the book/setting. Like Ronan, as you were saying. But I've DNFed books that seem to be 60% swear words. At that point, it's unnecessary and meaningless. Where is the substance of the story? Does the author have a limited vocabulary or something? Books like that seem almost insulting to the authors who use swear words with a good reason. Although there are times that I've DNFed books with a small amount of swear words, that are probably justifiable, just because I hear it so often in real life. I just get fed up sometimes, you know?

    I think it does have to do with both principle and maturity together. In a way, valuing principle is a part of maturity.

    I really do appreciate when an author just says, "he swore" or something more vague. It really is like they're saying in my head and I thought it myself. So when the author keeps it vague but still does it because the situation/character calls for it, I always mentally thank the author for being tactful. XD

    I do hate the f word though. I know what it actually means and people always use it as joke?! It is not a joke; it's not funny in the least.

    So I should stop ranting. But this is an excellent post! I do agree that there are just times that call for a swear word. It really is a gray area that is more of a just between you and God kind of thing.

    Okay, on the last note. I do know a couple verses in the Bible about swear words. Mostly because, it always surprises me how often I run across it especially in the New Testament. Anyhow there's Colossians 3:8 and there's also Proverbs 4:24. I think there's more in the New Testament, I just can't think of it at the moment. Proverbs talks about "corrupt talk" so I'm not sure if that points specifically to swear words themselves or if Proverbs means the topic of our conversations? But the Colossians verse (in NIV at least) actually says "filthy language" which I would think is directed at our actual word choice?

    Sorry for the long comment. Good post!

    1. You've brought some really great thoughts to the table, Ashley--thank you!

      I'm with you there about DNFing books like that. I even encountered one (about little people living in a tree) where it was full of made up swear words almost exactly like the real ones. They were so close, my brain couldn't help but replace the substitutes. Needless to say, I didn't read much of that book. As a person, I know exactly how I feel about swearing, but as a writer/reader, it seems a little trickier for some reason...

      Very good point about principle and maturity! They do go hand in hand, come to think about it. Dealing with our speech and writing in a thoughtful manner is a sign of maturity, and it simultaneously uplifts the principles we live by.

      Keeping it vague is the way I go with my own writing right now. XD Except for when I can come up with some witty fantasy swears/oaths/sayings. (Anne Elisabeth Stengl's are my favorites as far as fantasy world language goes. Dragon's teeth!)

      ME TOO. UGH. I hate how often it gets thrown around.

      By nature I'm a black and white sort of person, so grey areas can be tough to accept. But I'm realizing that there might be instances in which language is acceptable--hence the discussion we have going on!

      Thank you for those references! They definitely apply. And I would agree that "filthy language" means word choice. As with everything else, we are representatives of Jesus, and our words should attract others to Him.

      Don't ever apologize for a long comment! I love it! And that's exactly what I was looking for--a conversation, a back and forth with other people so we could hash this topic out together. ^_^

  2. Okay, so I've been DREADFULLY behind on commenting, and I promise I will go back and read your old posts. BUT THIS POST. YES. I JUST NEED TO SAY SOME THINGS.

    I definitely am in the same boat as you. I'm homeschooled, a Christian, and in general, have not been exposed to language as much as most people. So I suppose that does have a lot to do with my thoughts on this issue.

    For one thing, swearing just makes me feel really uncomfortable. I don't know if that's more than the average person, but every time I hear a bad word, I can't help but cringe. Again, this DOES have a lot to do with my background. Now that I'm older, it's inevitable that I will hear more swearing. And since I've lived a relatively sheltered life, it comes as more of a jolt to me than others. Hearing bad language makes me extremely uncomfortable, perhaps even a bit anxious.

    This is probably just me, but I can't stand to read a book or watch a film with language. Maaaaybe if there are only a few words I will? But on a whole, I just can't do it. I even watch movies with all the language filtered out because it makes me THAT uncomfortable. (There have been occasions when I did watch a movie with a few non-filtered swear words, though. *cough* The Force Awakens *cough*)

    However, that being said, it sometimes depends how the language is handled. There's a difference between throwing language in your face every few seconds (because you're obviously unintelligent and can't handle anything other than nonstop swearing) and using a couple words in moderation. When scripts and books are a minefield of language, it just makes the author/script writer look unintelligent and the viewers or readers feel like they were cheated out of a decent story. It oftentimes cheapens the story.

    For me personally, I will never write a book with language. A simple "he swore" is a tactful way of handling the situation. I realize not everyone agrees with me, but that's just something I feel very strongly about. I don't want to be responsible for making people feel as uncomfortable as I do around swearing.

    Such a great post, Tracey! I obviously have a loooot of thoughts on this topic. *COUGH* (You should be glad I didn't write EVERYTHING I had to say about this...otherwise we would be here all day. XD)

    1. Oh, don't worry about it, Mary! Life is a busy creature sometimes. (I myself have missed commenting on some of your posts too... *cough*)

      I remember a particular week of teen Bible camp that was a little shocking in that regard. It made me glad I didn't have to deal with that on a daily basis at public school. :P I personally think it's a good thing bad language makes you uncomfortable. I'm not sure what I think of myself being somewhat desensitized to some of the milder words out there...

      It'd be nice to filter it out everywhere. *sigh* (Haven't seen The Force Awakens, but I want to!)

      That is very true, and it's something I've just recently been realizing. There IS a very big difference depending on how it's handled. A flood of it cheapens the story, as you said (love how you put that)... But certain circumstances seem to call for a bit. And I have to wrestle with WHICH circumstances those are.

      That's an honorable choice, and one I stand behind. I'm not sure what kind of genres/audiences are in my future, but it's very possible that, years down the road when I've reached a certain level of maturity and experience, I may write a book that necessitates a very carefully moderated amount. And yet, even saying that makes me go back and forth, wondering what's right and what's not.

      I'm so glad you contributed those thoughts! And if you had that much more to say, I would be very interested in a follow-up post of your own. *hint hint* XD

  3. I love this post! Philippians 4:8 is one of my favorite Bible verses. :) I think the main problem with swearing, whether in books or in real life, is that it gets those thoughts in readers' heads. We're supposed to be thinking about the good, the true, and the beautiful, and it's hard to do that if you've got profanity floating around in your brain. Thoughts and words might seem like little things, but what we think and say molds our character. So frivolous swearing is a no-no. Personally, I don't think "it's realistic" is a sufficient reason for putting a lot of bad words or cursing in a book.

    However, I do think there are instances when characters swearing is okay. One of my favorite lines in The Great Gatsby is when Nick tells Gatsby, "You're worth the whole d-n bunch put together." Maybe it's bad of me to think so, but that line wouldn't have the same effect if it was written any other way. (Then again, it might just be that The Great Gatsby is a classic, and I have a habit of forgiving classics anything and everything.)

    I love it when authors can get the point across that a character's language is filthy without actually showing us the language. If they can do it with a touch of humor, so much the better. Fr. Finn, the author of my beloved Tom Playfair series, is my favorite example. He doesn't just say, "He swore," he says something like, "He expressed his feelings in a manner too realistic to be reported."

    I guess the bottom line is that although there are some cases where swearing in books is permissible, as a general rule it should be avoided. If it is used, it should be used very conscientiously.

    1. I love that one too! :) Exactly. This issue is a different color than, say, idolatry or theft or murder, because it's something that actually does get into our heads. And thoughts become words, then actions, then habits, etc. I would never condone frivolous swearing at all, but the line between frivolous and acceptable (if there is one) is where I'm left puzzling. And no, I don't think realism alone is a strong enough reason.

      I haven't read The Great Gatsby (oh, the shock! the horror!), but I can see that being a good reason for it. It seems contradictory to admit that there are times when a word like that adds the "oomph" a line needs. (LOL, classics have so much dignity, it's hard not to forgive a few things. xD)

      Yes! And that takes creativity, because a simplistic "he swore" can get repetitive. "He expressed his feelings in a manner too realistic to be reported." LOVE THAT. XDDD I remember my brother used to read the Wally McDoogle books by Bill Myers (they're verrrry much written for young boys, my goodness), and the baddies' language was often dealt with in a similar, humorous way.

      Conscientiously. That right there is the perfect word for it.

  4. Oh you made a really good point, and I like that you used Ronan as an example, because I loved him and his cursing seemed to fit. Not that I agreed with his life choices. William is the first character I have written that probably would swear, but I tend to not let him, or do as you said, and use the he cursed. :D

    1. I love Ronan too, especially his tender side because it's so surprising. But he wouldn't be quite the same without his foul mouth, and I'm not entirely sure what to think of that fact. I think I can accept it without *liking* it, if that makes sense.

      Haha, you get to censor William's speech! #authorpower XD

  5. Loved this post, by the way.

    Totally with you on pretty much everything you said. I'm not a fan of reading swear words or hearing them in movies/tv shows... I will tolerate them if they're not too prolific or they don't include the f-word. If it's just a small smattering... I notice it, may relegate it to "lazy writing on the author's part" and move on... or put the book down if there's too much... it really depends. I'm a great skipper-overer of words I don't care for in books, and while it's not anything I could ever bring myself to WRITE, reading it doesn't always bother me.

    One major exception I'll make to most of this is any war-movie, especially if it's based on real characters or true events... because I know military-people, and it's just realistic. And really, war is awful and harsh and brutal, and sometimes you just can't express that with "oh crud!" (I liked your "oh pumpernickel" example, made me chuckle).

    As far as Bible references go, I reference Ephesians 5:3-4 when it comes to Christians swearing outside of using the Lord's Name in vain: "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. 4 Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving."

    Someone already referenced Colossians 3:8: But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.

    I have wonderful, very godly Christian friends who do swear, and I've talked with them about it a bit, but I never feel like anyone walks away from those conversations satisfied... to some extent, yes, they're just words... but those words have meanings that are not kind, or compassionate, or pleasant, or admirable. I do know that my short time spent in the secular work-place - my co-workers noticed my lack of that sort of language, and often commented on it or curbed their own language around me... and a few asked me why I don't speak that way, and I was able to share the Gospel with them because of it (and I never called them out on their language or made any kind of deal about it, either... they did that on their own). So, I do feel that Christians should stand out in this regard and "sound" different than the world... which doesn't mean that think less of anyone who does swear and profess to be a Christian. My own mother (who is the least likely person to ever allow anything crude or profane to cross her lips) once (while on a family vacation as we were crossing a dam) leaned over, kissed my dad, and said, "That was a GOOD dam-kiss!" and it was funny (mostly because we were all shocked and mortified that SHE said it... if our dad had said it we would have been less surprised!), and there was nothing wrong with her saying that.... but that's the context I grew up around, whereas the actual use of the "d-word" was understood to be crude and unkind and that to say it in its actual context was not okay.

    So... yeah... I guess I'm right there with you on wishing this was an issue that has a definite answer (like: do not murder)... but kind of feeling like maybe it's more gray than I'm comfortable with.

    Good, thought-provoking post. :)

    1. Thanks, Jenelle! To be honest, I hesitated to put it up, simply because my own thoughts were not very clearly defined.

      I, too, have a threshold. A smattering will catch my notice, but a lot will turn me away quite quickly. It's interesting, certain swear words bother me significantly less than others. Hell, the d word, etc. doesn't affect me like the f word does.
      I envy your skipper-over-ness! I try to do that, but end up focusing so hard on skipping over words that I pay more attention to them than if I had just read it normally. XD

      Mm, excellent point. I'm sure that if I was in a horrific situation like that, my vocabulary would not be very pretty either. I think in a high-stress situation like war, you need *some* kind of vent just to stay sane.
      (Pumpernickel is an awesome word, just saying. XD)

      That Ephesians passage is another great one for the subject at hand. I like that it includes coarse jokes in the list. Foolish talk, though... Now THERE'S a discussion point!

      Words do have power. We're the ones that give them power, but they do have it. And it's great to recognize that there are godly Christians who do swear--because we're all on a journey, and we all have rough edges. It's just that my rough edges will look different than yours. :)
      That's very cool how your coworkers noticed that. My mom has similar stories about people apologizing for their language, people who never expressly heard she was a Christian. We should stand out! Not in a pious, holier-than-thou sort of way, but in a vibrant way that makes others want what we have. (But I'm basically repeating everything you said!)
      Hilarious story! Made me chuckle out loud. XD It's always twice as shocking when it comes from the person you'd least suspect, and that was a really sweet context too.

      There's a lot more grey in the world than I started out thinking, that's for sure. (Even murder. Because how does that command play out on the battlefield, or in defense of the innocent?)

      Thanks for your great thoughts, Jenelle! It's appreciated. :)

  6. I remember that last post on language.
    I still find swearing an ugly thing. Although I'm also starting to see it as a writing tool- but only if used wisely and sparingly. I find I'll let a sprinkle of mild language pass if it's used by the villain or by someone having a mental breakdown. It shouldn't go beyond that, really.
    It's like the time I had chocolate with Himalayan salt speckled on top. I didn't like the salt, but I ate it because of the chocolate, which was the stronger flavour. I'd eat salt covered chocolate, but not chocolate covered salt.

    In my writing, I sometimes have characters with different moral outlooks than mine. For them, swearing is fine- natural even. But because I'M the one writing the story, I'll soften things a little. That way both of us stay true to character.

    1. You do? ^_^

      That's just it--it IS an ugly thing. But is it an ugly thing we should avoid in our books (read or written), or use? You said it right, "wisely and sparingly." There a circumstances in which a small amount won't stop me from reading a book. (But I'm basically repeating your entire comment, lol!)

      That is an excellent analogy. "I'd eat salt covered chocolate, but not chocolate covered salt." The proportions are SO important! And I think that goes for all the ugliness we may portray in our novels, or read in books: what's the ratio of dark stuff to good stuff? What's the *point* of the ugliness? Is it just to be ugly? Or does it serve a greater purpose of pointing the reader to the light?

      That's a good compromise between staying true to the character and true to yourself. :)

  7. Oh wow! What a fascinating post. I love discussions like this that really make me think. You brought up some extremely good points!

    I still stand in that I don't want ANY language in things. I don't want to be exposed to that, and I try to avoid it (though these days it's getting harder). BUT I will put up with it under specific circumstances, and I think you covered every point.

    If it's realistic, okay. I'll deal with it, even if I don't like it. That said though, if there's TOO much, realistic or not, I don't feel comfortable exposing myself to that. I was all planning to read The Raven Boys, but when I heard there was so much language I've decided I'll probably skip it. I don't know. Still deciding. But there's a good chance Stiefvater lost a sale because she chose to put so much language in her books. Anyways! Sometimes, as you said, "oh pumpernickel!" just doesn't cut it. XDDD I was mostly okay with the language in The Lunar Chronicles because it was so very little language and, as far as I can remember, the few times it was thrown around were for very specific reasons. Someone died, got hurt, etc., etc. Marissa Meyer didn't trash her wonderful books with language, just a slight sprinkling for realistic's sake. And it was mostly just the d word. No f-bombs or anything like that.

    Still, I personally don't like being exposed to it. It puts it in your brain, you know? When I've been exposed to a ton of language during a short period of time, those words start floating in my head, and that's a very, very bad thing. I don't want that. I HATE that! Like you said, when we see a character lying or murdering, we're not partaking in that. But foul language is something we're seeing and it sticks in our head.

    I think I'm just going around the world here. My stand on it is: I don't want it, but I'll put up with it a little if the author deems it necessary. I don't tolerate though if it's just ALL over the book. That is lazy writing and there's no call for it. And the other time I don't tolerate it is in Middle-Grade books. A little in YA or adult, sure. That almost makes sense. But in books for CHILDREN? NO. There are fewer things that make me upset than that.

    Basically, I agree with everything you said! You brought up such great things! I love this. Just as you said, it's about the context, audience, and frequency. For me at least. But I do so love when authors simply choose to go the "he cursed" route instead of outright saying it. I actually do that a lot because I DO have characters who, realistically, would curse. I write some pretty horrible people. XD But I don't want to put any actual words in my readers head, nor mine. I think authors should be tactful and respectful to their audience.

    But good gracious, this is getting long! And I'm just repeating everything you said. You make the best posts! This was a very insightful read!

    1. Oh, I'm glad! It's something I'm still chewing on, almost a week later. (Yikes, am I ever late in replying to you guys. >.<)

      In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to talk about this, you're right. I'd prefer we didn't have any swearing at all. But because that's just not the case, we have some thinking to do.

      I have an uncrossable line when it comes to "language for the sake of realism" too. If there's too much, I don't care how realistic it is, I just don't want to fill my mind with that.
      Re: The Raven Boys... Well, I don't know if I would say "so much," but it really depends on the person. (Now I'm wishing I had counted. XD) I do remember there being a few f-words, a few uses of b****rd, and probably some milder ones like d**n or hell. It's such a grey area (and I don't like grey areas at all), but I would totally understand your decision not to read it.
      I hardly remember Cinder having any language! It must have been sparse indeed, which is awesome. The Hunger Games didn't have much, if any, either--if I recall correctly. Finding secular books with minimal language is a cause for celebration! XD

      Ugh, I know. I hate it when they start floating around in my head. If that happens too much due to the books I'm reading, I know it's time to pick up a trusted Christian book or two, in order to refresh my mind. (The problem is, this issue is the same with movies and music. Blarg.)

      I think you and I think very similarly on this! Don't want it--will put up with it if X, Y, and Z--never in MG or children's literature, but some in YA to adult.

      I have a bunch of cursing characters too! (Especially bad guys? *cough* Maybe I'm falling into too many stereotypes... XD) And using vague "he cursed" is a convenient way to skirt the issue. I think I've heard of some people using an em dash to replace the curse word too. And you're so very right that tact and respect are hugely important! You can tell when an author is being both, and so even if a curse word crops up, it's easier to accept that the writer had a good reason for it.

      I love your long comments! This is all about the discussion, so it's great! And you worded things awesomely. ;D

  8. Great post! I thought you had some good points, and I agree with you that swearing in books and movies/TV is a much more grey topic than one might think at first. Personally I became a lot more desensitized to swearing of all kinds and colours living in residence at university this year, so I don't mind hearing and reading it as much as I used to. That being said, I do think that Christians are called to a high standard with the words we use, written and spoken alike. I would recommend reading James 3 (the passage about taming the tongue) for further reading on what the Bible has to say about coarse language.
    As to whether language in books is a good thing, even if it is realistic, and how much there should be, and if certain words should never be used but others are ok on occasion... I don't think there is a hard and fast rule. I agree with you that it's something we all should carefully and prayerfully consider and decide for ourselves, which may be an unsatisfying answer for many. My final recommendation is that you read Romans 14:13 - 15:2, especially verse 13 "For that reason we should stop judging each other. We must make up our minds not to do anything that will make another Christian sin."

    1. It's so grey. Blegh. I'm a black and white person, so grey things can be tough to figure out. :P
      Yeah, I'm sure living in residence would do the trick. Even just my work environment, which doesn't tend to be overly foul, has desensitized me to a certain extent.
      And YES, we are called to a high standard. Like Jenelle mentioned in an above comment, it is noticeable when we refrain from swearing. Love James 3! Actually, I love all of James. :)

      That's the answer I'm going with. It's one that takes wisdom to answer, and the answer may be different every time. That Romans passage is very, very relevant to this topic. I'd forgotten to include that side of things in the post. What might not bother me could be a stumbling block for someone else, and I would do well to refrain from that for their sake. (Which is one of the reasons why I would be extremely hesitant to include swearing in a YA book, but I would more readily consider it for an adult novel.) Thanks for bringing that to the table! :)

  9. Oh, absolutely. Great thoughts, Tracey! :)

    My family is very careful about language -- even the slightest bad words that are used by many Christians, we were never allowed to say. And I get that; God's name should never be taken in vain -- even in the mildest manner -- and hell and heaven shouldn't be made light of. But I do agree with you that a book should be realistic -- but not overly so. :)

    As for verses concerning abstinence from swearing, all I know of is Colossians 3:8. :)

    Insightful thoughts! :)

    1. Glad you like the discussion! :)

      That's a good thing. I wish more people would be careful with their language (and with their speech in general)! It's really a matter of the heart, because "out of the heart, the mouth speaks." That's an important factor when it comes to the books we read/write too. "What's my intent for including this swearing?" Or "What's the author's intent for including it?"

      That's a good one. :)

      Thanks for chiming in, Emily! Your thoughts are appreciated!

  10. This is a good discussion. Swearing is a tricky thing. I know if I wrote an adult novel I'd never have an excessive amount of it, but I may place a swear word here and there only because it would be logical for that character to say it. Mr. Davis in his development with a secular novel that involves some really skeevy people is having to use a few swear words because well they wouldn't say "shoot."

    1. Thanks! It is SUCH a tricky subject for me... there's no big, black line drawn on the ground. XD

      I was definitely thinking of Mr. D's "The Scent of Her Soul" as I wrote this! I was initially surprised about the bit of swearing in there, but then I read about his reasons and they made sense. Oh, exactly, some people just don't say "shoot" when they have so many stronger words at their disposal.

  11. Hey! Firstly I feel very flattered that our convo has been one factor leading to a post ^_^ I'm considering writing my own post on this topic (I might have a crack at it when I'm done with this comment, actually), or on a more general sin topic. Watch this space! (By which I mean my blog. *ahem*)

    I was nodding along with this post. On the one hand, it's important to make dialogue realistic, and when I consider the actual vocab of most of my friends, swearing is all. the. time. But on the other hand, dialogue is normally not realistic (gonna expand on this in my post!). The things characters say are normally concise, witty, beautiful, philosophical. They don't um and er nearly as much as I do in real life. Dialogue doesn't always have to be 100% realistic.

    Equally, I think that it's easy for us to get a bit prissy when we read a swearword, and yet we don't mind reading horrible violence? Don't mind our characters stabbing people (as mine have done)? Sometimes I think we view swearwords as worse than other sin.

    I was having a chat w non Christian friends recently and they said they don't notice swearing (or lack thereof) in books. I was freaking out about A Room Alone, because while the TCATT characters are pretty vanilla and I don't imagine them swearing much anyway, ARA is different and has at times felt very staged without swearing. But ugh, I don't know! Because then it starts to sound like I'm justifying swearing to myself.

    One thing it's helpful to remember is that as authors, we set the parameters. The worst words in TCATT all begin with B. When editing I found a character using "bastard" quite casually, but I deleted it, which means that when they actually call someone a bastard, bitch etc, it has a lot of weight. Irl that wouldn't mean much to most people because the words are so common, and there are so many far worse things to call people, but if you set up an artificial environment in which no one swears, those words become a lot worse. If that makes sense.

    RE the Biblical thing, there's a bit where Paul says no crude joking, I can't remember where it is. To me, that's in keeping with not making sexual jokes, and whilst the S word is just a bit crude, the ones "above" it all have sexual meanings. So that's why I'd never use them, not only because I know my parents would be upset (therefore fifth commandment), but because of their meanings, which in some cases take a beautiful thing God's made, and make it a curse. Which is kinda blasphemy I guess??

    Anyway, great post! A lot of food for thought here.

    1. I will definitely keep an eye out for that! It's sure to be an excellent topic. :)

      That is a VERY good point about dialogue not being 100% realistic anyway. I hadn't thought about that, but it's very true! We stutter, we um and ah, we run over our own sentences, we repeat words, and we're just not as pithy or profound on a regular basis as characters are. Completely realistic dialogue would be boring and hard to read.

      That's what I was thinking too, and like I mentioned, that mindset is probably there because a swear word on the page is right THERE and it gets in our heads. But really, shouldn't we be just as shocked or put off when a character stabs someone, like you said? Our standards don't seem to be equal across the board.

      Ugh, I feel that struggle too. I start to weigh both sides of the argument, but then I feel like I'm just justifying language. I really don't know...

      Oh yes, totally agree. When we set up our worlds with restraint in regards to language, then if it does pop up, it means a lot more than it would otherwise. I think that goes for any unpleasant content, actually.

      (Interesting how we define some words as being worse swears than others, isn't it?) Come to think of it, it's those swear words that are sexual in nature that make me most uncomfortable. That's a good point.

      You just raised a bunch of good points! Thanks for all the feedback!