Do writers really need to swear?

Ace Ventura didn't mind the
occasional bout of profanity
Back in the early 2000s, I was visiting my family in Seattle, USA. It was a cold evening so we decided to watch a movie. The movie we watched? Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

Well, I happen to love this movie because it's so damn stupid. But one thing from this particular version has stuck with me.

The word 'ass' was bleeped out by the USA television censors.

I was completely flabbergasted. Were they serious? How over-protective could these censors be?

However, according to my cousin, that's the way USA censors operate. They’re far more prescriptive as to what constitutes inappropriate language.

That was ten years ago but in Australia, we seem to be taking our profane freedom to unparalleled heights.

I'm referring to a trend my friends and I are noticing in Australian and even international media: a marked increase in the willingness to include profanity in literature.

Now, I'm aware as anyone how ingrained swearing is in Australian culture. In fact, I'm definitely in the minority as one of those who doesn't swear (even then, it depends who you ask!).

But surely, as a writer, you're expected to be a bit better than that? Well, apparently not.

Mainstream newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian are more than comfortable with using bulls**t and variants in their articles. Meanwhile The Economist, the most celebrated of international print media, has been using the F-Bomb with increasing regularity of late.

Surely there's something a little lame about this. A high school teacher of mine once said to me, "One only resorts to profanity when one has nothing intelligent to say."

I have to agree with her. Seeing profanity in writing is always more jarring than hearing it in conversation. And when the writing is from an intelligent and 'wordy' person, I can't help but sigh with a little disappointment.

Perhaps there's a 'shock' element to it. Writers feel their audience is so disengaged that they have to throw in a swear word to really emphasise the seriousness of their point.

Maybe it's a comedy factor? After all, Australians seem to find swearing pretty hilarious.

Maybe it's a lefty thing? - that we need to move with the times and leave the non-swearing, traditional writing in the past.

Who knows what it is, but I know how I feel about it. I think it's pretty lame.

Come on, Australian journalists; you're better than that.

Cut the crap!


Anonymous said…
"Cut the crap", very clever.
Tim H said…
Agreed. It does, however, open the door for Gordon Ramsay to do some freelance work at the Oz...
Dylan Malloch said…
Haha! Excellent point.
Roge said…
Personal opinion: well-timed profanity (not excessive) can be both humorous and profound. It’s when you go over the top that it becomes f@$cking stupid.
Unknown said…
The other difference is that Australians swear properly, and use coarse language to be emphatic or hilarious, as opposed to using it to show how bad-ass (bad-arse?) we are as is the case in America.

It's a stylistic choice I guess. If you want to show how 'wordy' you are, you use wordy language. If you want to use language that your readers can relate to, you might want to swear if that's what will get your message across.

The thing about a good expletive is that by its very nature it carries extra shades of meaning that you can't get across using nice words.

Mind you, they are still taboo to a large extent, and I wouldn't expect to find them in mainstream newspapers. That is a bit odd.
Cpad said…
its not just writing, the ABC are going nuts for swearing too. Can't watch the Gruen Transfer without Will dropping something. My wife was watching "The Slap" and they used the F bomb like it was going out of style. I think its reflective of the boganisation of Australian society