Writing - Sometimes It Isn't Smart to Avoid Cuss Words
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson
Many who know me—personally or as a writer--think of me as that sweet woman with the silver hair (platinum, if you please, but not gray!). However, I can on occasion—and sometimes more frequently—let loose with language you would unfriend me for. So I was thrilled to see an article in AARP: The Magazine titled “In Praise of Cussing.”
It turns out that a few carefully chosen zingers can be “an indicator of intelligence” according a study from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Marist College in New York.
And expletives can help “reduce and endure physical pain” as well. That’s from Keele University in England. Yep. And “forge better teams in the workplace” and “communicate more persuasively.”
One survey even says I am in good company (meaning the majority!). Fifty-seven percent of workers swear on the job. (I do try to avoid doing that! And I also almost never swear when I am driving! So there!)
So, I don’t think you’ll ever find an unsavory expletive in my newsletter, but you are sure to find idioms and colloquialisms everywhere. I do try not to let even my foulest fictional characters cuss beyond what is needed for their character and the situation. And, yes sometimes I use words with lots of syllables, too, especially when they say things better than the short ones (which is rarely).
All this is not to encourage writers to cuss. It is to remind them that if the words they use in dialogue are too. . . mmmm. . .staid, they may render them . . . well, let’s say unnatural? Or stilted?
One of your characters may just be the type who must have a potty mouth if she is to seem real to your reader. And sometimes that character won’t be the tough-talking dude cliché. Those who write humor know that tough-talking character may be a fragile woman with gray. . . er. . . platinum hair.
Howard-Johnson is the recipient of the California Legislature’s Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment Award, and her community’s Character and Ethics award for her work promoting tolerance with her writing. She was also named to Pasadena Weekly’s list of “Fourteen San Gabriel Valley women who make life happen” and was given her community’s Diamond Award for Achievement in the Arts. Her Web site is www.howtodoitfrugally.com.
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