I swear. I swear all the time. It feels good, so I do it.
I know they say that you will sound less intelligent if you swear. (I think the juxtaposition of a highfalutin word with a swear packs a nice punch.)
They also say say that swearing is unprofessional. (I want to ask them how that applies to me, who has no profession. Or perhaps there’s a causal connection?)
They say that if you swear in writing, you will attract the wrong kind of attention, above and beyond the fact that if you put it online, people searching for illicit pleasures will type in some dirty word and find you. To some, writing swear words is tantamount to asking for it. For them, one single swear word will dirty every word in its vicinity.
I don’t feel proud of my smut mouth but I’m not particularly ashamed, either. Mostly, I’m curious. Because most people utter the occasional epithet but but they don’t do it in writing. Why not?
The other day on NPR I heard a fascinating story about Webster’s Third Unabridged Dictionary, published in 1961. (Click here to see the story.) Apparently, editor Philip Babcock Gove earned himself a s^!↑load of criticism for including and failing to condemn words like “ain’t” and colloquial items like “wise up” and “litterbug.” People vilified the dictionary for its “overly permissive approach to usage.” The story does not mention swear words but it could have.
The “Third stood in for all the forces ranged against art and high culture. It enshrined the kitsch and vulgarity of mass culture and the smug middlebrow consumerism of the Book of the Month Club. And it defended itself with the bloodless jargon of the social sciences.
I don’t want my writing to be a stiff, proper, or formal construct. I don’t want to waste energy trying to sound more highbrow than I am. I want to be real. There are not many satisfactory synonyms for “mΩ↑∏erFµ©≤er.” And yet also, I don’t want to burn any bridges.
What do you think?
Can words be bad?
Did a word ever get you in trouble?