Sure this post may seem a little too square for some readers but in the words of Huey Lewis and the News, it's hip to be square. Or is it? According to most YA authors and some adult authors swearing is an acceptable use of language in literature. After all it's just a word and words don't have meaning unless a person gives it meaning and power. Well, duh. Writers who choose to swear in their works are giving power to those words just by the fact they have chosen it among all the other words they could have used to express a thought, feeling or situation. Before assuming that someone is old fashioned and prudish because they do not like the usage of vulgar words, consider the following argument.
It wasn't too long ago that the usage of vulgar language was an indication of a person who was not well educated and working in occupations that did not pay well. Yes, this is the stereotyping of a blue collar worker who barely got out of high school and found a job where co-workers share the same lifestyle, mentality and language. The colorful metaphors become part of their conversations. On the YA bookshelves there are plenty of examples of foul mouthed characters. What makes them endearing is not just their words but their actions as well. Why lower the quality of the character by cheapening the language? There are only a few cases that vulgar language works for a character. Rhett Butler comes to mind but remember he only used the d word once in Gone With the Wind. Literature is meant to be rich in meaning and beauty. These words are anything but beautiful.
It could be he case that the authors are trying to shock the reader with a contemporary topic. In which case they will always defend the language stating that it was called for due to the highly sensitive topic in the book. Every YA reader can call to mind at least one book about drugs, suicide or homosexuality that swearing was not only used by the character but used often. It's as if the author is saying, "It's really true that people who are oriented to the homosexual lifestyle or drugs swear constantly." Really? Then when did it become totally natural for vampires to swear as well? Funny, Stoker didn't use offensive language when writing Dracula and the characters probably could have said a few choice words considering the situations that they faced.
Just as good comedians don't need to swear to be funny. Good authors don't need to fill the pages with swear words to be good at their crafts. Storytelling is much more than stringing words together. It's actually weaving words, emotions and imagery together creating the perfect story. The argument that if words are carefully chosen, and no other words fits, then swearing is acceptable, is pure nonsense. It's a lazy writer's cop way of wriggling out of hard work. All creative work deserve nothing less than sweat, blood and tears.
Some argue that parents may object to vulgar language in books because they are afraid to admit that they are not ready for their children to grow up. This is might be true but frankly that thought is ignoring one other explanation. Simply stated, perhaps parents expect more from their children in the way of behavior and common courtesy. In a polite conversation, vulgar words are not used because the person speaking wishes to convey that they are educated and cultured. This is also showing respect to the listener. In the writer's case by not using to swear they are indicating that they respect the fact that the reader may not appreciate being peppered with choice words.
Call it a longing for the good ol' days when Laura Ingles Wilder could face a harsh winter as a newlywed out on the midwestern plains and never utter a word that was distasteful and discouraging Simply stated, this is what vulgar words are, distasteful and discouraging. This world is filled with people who are disrespectful of others in words and deeds. Why hold these people up as heroes for Young Adults to admire? Instead, put on a pedestal a character who speaks well and spins an unforgettable story.