I recently submitted some work to a well known magazine but just as I finished the final edit, I noticed something that gave me pause for thought. Contained within the lines of my finished article were a few naughty words. I was faced with an ethical and potentially commercially relevant conundrum.
Would these small little words, words that I use everyday, cause offence to the editor? Furthermore would they cause offence to the readers of the magazine?
For fuck’s sake I thought to myself as I held my head in despair, what is the right thing to do.
For arguments sake let’s look at the above sentence, I have used an expletive to express my real dilemma. I have not put it there to be controversial or cause offence. It is there because it reflects the reality of how I sometimes express myself and it is there because it makes a forceful statement as to the depth of my feelings.
Yes I could have used other words, and sometimes another word would be appropriate. However despite these valid artistic protestations, can swearing still cause offence even when the author is completely justified in swearing? And if the author is aware that offence may be caused should they compromise their artistic creation and change their writing?
I have read many advice columns and blogs stating categorically that in novels or poetry submissions you should avoid swearing completely. This to me seems incomplete advice, because if you have created a character that swears, and this swearing is integral to that character’s very being than surely swearing is justified. Furthermore some of the great authors include expletives within their work.
I think the best advice would be to judge the market you are pitching to, I don’t think bad language, like sex or violence, should be used gratuitously, but it can certainly have a place, depending on who you are aiming your work at.
On this occasion I took out the offending words, because whilst I felt they were justified within the context of the piece, I also recognised that they could be misconstrued as offensive and I definitely don’t want to offend anyone for the sake of causing offence.
I defend my right to challenge and experiment and have full freedom of speech but offence for offence’s sake seems somehow unkind. As always context is everything.
What are your thoughts? I would love to hear your views on swearing. Let me know in the comments section below, please feel free to not keep it clean.