Curses! Dealing with 4-letter words

I used to work for an entertainment industry trade publication, written for the good people of Hollywood. For a fairly conservative paper, it had a liberal commonsense policy on profanity:

Blouto of Popeye fameIf the word occurs naturally, use it. If the quote includes the word fuck, use it. If there is no good reason to swear in print, don’t.

“It’s not a family newspaper,” was the saying on the copydesk.

This worked out well. I think I set that policy ages ago, and I continue with it on my own blogs. I swear most days in my real life; not much while writing.

Curse words flow on TV these days. Believe I’ve heard the F-bomb dropped by announcers on CNBC and Fox Sports. Of course swear words are always flying around on HBO and Showtime. The “asshole” barrier fell years ago on network TV, by one of the cop shows.

Goodness. Let’s tune in Cole Porter for a sec:

Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four-letter words.
Writing prose,
Anything goes.

Well, maybe. But the news media still keep things pretty clean. One reason: Cursing for publication or in a post often comes across as juvenile, even to readers who swear. Something about putting down the words in black and white. It feels off, like when some bozo uses all CAPS in an email. This, to me, is the problem with using “bad language.” Of course, there are publications that swear to be hip, like some of the laddie magazines, which can pull it off.

I do think you can swear occasionally on a blog without becoming offensive to a general audience. The work will be judged in context and as a whole, at least by smart readers. Forget the middle ground: The hyphens in f–k don’t accomplish a fucking thing.

This policy wouldn’t apply on sites/blogs intended for younger readers, of course, but if you’re writing for the big kids, WTF.

Here’s an oldie but goodie take on blogging and swearing.