Swear Words

I had a bit of a mental tussle with the place of swear words in my second novel. It’s a crime novel featuring a gruesome death, drug smuggling, illegal importation of weapons and human trafficking—all typical of Cornwall!

Given that I was writing about hardened detectives and violent villains, they shouldn’t have been talking like genteel vicars at a garden tea-party, but despite this, I didn’t include that much swearing. It wasn’t out of prudery, for I can out-swear anybody, and have, once causing a foul-mouthed Tourette’s Syndrome sufferer to complain about me.

My reluctance to use oaths in my Cornish Detective series is more that I fear it will distract from the flow of the story. Swearing is a useful tool to emphasise the tension a character is feeling when talking, but starts to look like the writer is going for a shock effect if peppered through the text. Anyone who has read Irvine Welsh (best known for ‘Trainspotting’) will know what I mean.

In real life, people often use expletives in a calm way when talking to one another, showing mild irritation at best. Funnily enough, I wouldn’t be having this problem if I was writing an erotic novel as I could use profanity willy-nilly! 

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Interestingly enough, recent research shows that having a large arsenal of swear words is proof of a healthy verbal ability and not poverty of vocabulary.


It’s always puzzled me how most swearing references sexual activity or private body parts, with blasphemy bringing in religion in a sacrilegious way.

You might think that rather than using things that we’re fond of, swearing would choose people, physical activities and jobs that make us disgusted. In my opinion politician should be a swear word! The only profession that is used as an insult uses Cockney rhyming slang, with ‘merchant banker’ being a euphemism for wanker.

How do you deal with four-letter words in your writing?

Does it bother you if a story is full of swearing?

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