Tag Archives: Tourette’s Syndrome

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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Swearing in Children’s Stories

I recently read Philip Pullman’s La Belle Sauvage, the first part of a trilogy called The Book Of Dust.

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Overall, I enjoyed it, but was a little shocked at the number of swearwords—not because they didn’t fit the boy speaker’s way of expressing himself—more because of the likely age of most readers of the story.

I’m not so naïve that I think children don’t know how to swear, but there is a danger that normalising bad language in fiction will lead to overuse in day-to-day speech. Swearing isn’t always a bad thing, as this article points out.

I’ve only ever written poetry for young readers, none of which had anything ruder than the word ‘bum’ in it. With my crime novels for adult readers, I’m well aware that there should be a lot more swearing in the dialogue, were I going for verisimilitude, as coppers and criminals aren’t known for being genteel. Instead, I have my characters use swearing in times of stress.

Various famous children’s books have included swearing, such as David Almond’s Skellig, which caused his publishers to have a heated debate over his use of the word “bollocks”—they left them in! It could be argued that the use of swear words is age-sensitive when young readers are leaving childhood to become juveniles.

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Censorship of anything is contentious, but should young readers’ books carry warning stickers if they contain swearing? Sometimes swearing is a key element in the story. In 2014, Brian Conaghan published When Mr. Dog Bites, which tells the story of a teenager with Tourette’s Syndrome, a condition the author knows well, as he suffers with it. Every swearword appears in the text, but in a realistic way and not done to be sensational.

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If you write for children, how do you deal with swearing?

Do you make up swear words if you write Fantasy or Science Fiction?