Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 39

Thread: Profanity in Literature

  1. #1
    Registered User 108 fountains's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2013
    Location
    Falls Church, Virginia
    Posts
    602

    Profanity in Literature

    An ongoing thread discussing obscenity in literature got me to thinking about the proliferation of profanity in literature that I’ve noticed in recent years, and thought it might be a worthwhile topic for Forum discussion.

    Personally, I see little need or use to fill novels or stories with four-letter words, whether they are spelled out in letters or asterisks. I can understand, perhaps, if a writer uses profanity in dialogue that is meant to be gritty and realistic, or if a writer intends to portray the same attributes when writing in the first person, although it is my own opinion that a good writer can convey the same ideas without resorting to profanity. Moreover, it seems to me that I come across more and more profanity in literature that serves no particular purpose whatsoever. To me, that demeans both the reader and the writer.

    I’ll admit that I am old and that I am old-fashioned. I still remember the first time I heard the song “Working Class Hero” by John Lennon. I was shocked by the line, “You’re still f***g peasants as far as I can see.” Of course, he intended to shock his listeners, and it worked – I am referring to it here more than 30 years since the release of the Plastic Ono Band album. But long gone are the days when profanity in literature (including song lyrics) induced any sort of shock in readers or listeners. So if it is not intended as shock value, what then is its purpose? Personally, I don’t see any purpose or value in it. I don’t like Hip-Hop, in part, because the song lyrics are so laced with profanity. And profanity in literature has become so common these days that it doesn’t shock me either. I am not at all advocating censorship. I believe artists and writers should be able to express themselves freely in whatever form they feel best expresses themselves. But this glut of profanity in modern literature makes me feel disappointed – no, dismayed – that modern writers are unable to express themselves without resorting to profanity. To me, it is a matter of taste. I find unnecessary profanity to be tasteless. I wonder what other Forum participants think.
    A just conception of life is too large a thing to grasp during the short interval of passing through it.
    Thomas Hardy

  2. #2
    Maybe YesNo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2010
    Location
    Near Chicago, Illinois USA
    Posts
    9,420
    Blog Entries
    2
    I agree that profanity is best used within quotes from a character. The narrator should not use it unless the narrator can be viewed as a sort of character, but perhaps all narrators are charactors. If the narrator starts using profanity, I assume the narrator is a character and I start doubting the narrator's authority at portraying the story accurately.

  3. #3
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Posts
    3,093
    Why be so upset about a word that refers to a normal act that, mostly, doesn't hurt anyone? People throw around phrases like, "the traffic was murder", and "I could kill for a pint of beer". Why aren't words like "murder" and "kill" profane? I'm old, but the f-word doesn't bother me at all. I heard Lennon's wonderful song when it first came out and I didn't even blink. Maybe it's looked upon as "not done" in the bible belt of America. But this really is a fuss over nothing, in my opinion.

  4. #4
    Inexplicably Undiscovered
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Location
    next door to the lady in the vinegar bottle
    Posts
    5,026
    Blog Entries
    72
    I don't mind the occasional profanity if it fits the context, but when it's used excessively, it's a signal that the writer has a limited vocabulary. Sometimes writers and artists let the lack of external censorship go to their heads and overdo it. For instance, I really enjoy watching some of the miniseries on HBO, but I do believe the screenwriters put an abundance of f-bombs and the like in there because "they can."

  5. #5
    Registered User glennr25's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    152
    As AuntShecky mentioned, profanity in literature is best used in moderation, rather, as a way to describe the characters' thought process with emphasis. If used too much it runs the risk of undermining the whole point the author is trying to make.
    "When I understand my enemy well enough to defeat him, in that moment, I also love him." - Ender Wiggin

  6. #6
    Registered User kev67's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Location
    Reading, England
    Posts
    2,260
    If it a portrayal of realistic speech or even thought processes then it is justified. If it is realistic then I would rather the swear words were printed then asterisks or a word 'obscenity', as was used by Hemmingway in For Whom the Bell Tolls. Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting was packed with obscenities, but that was the way those characters would speak. The characters swear a lot in Paddy Doyle's Barrytown trilogy, but that is realistic. When it is not necessary then I would rather not have it. I have watched rom-coms before that I thought were spolit a bit by unnecessary profanity.
    According to Aldous Huxley, D.H. Lawrence once said that Balzac was 'a gigantic dwarf', and in a sense the same is true of Dickens.
    Charles Dickens, by George Orwell

  7. #7
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2014
    Location
    Florianópolis, Brazil
    Posts
    1
    I think the great problem about "obscenity" in literature is it's own triviality. There's no "shock" in doing what is completely normal in an everyday dialogue, and repetition just produces mass literature, that is entertainment, and that's ok, but nothing that will persist for centuries (it will never be a classic). The less an author utilizes explicit sexual scenes, for exemple, the most he will seek for a way-out to show what is the scene about. Surely that's only applicable in literature of our time, it was very new talking about sex in the XIX century! Looking that way, obscenity can be very productive and can estimulate great discussions about sentiments, writing styles, techiniques, etc. I don't want to be the guy labeling literature, anyway; I mean, it's all about style. Which one your prefer, that's the best for you.

  8. #8
    Registered User glennr25's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2013
    Location
    Florida
    Posts
    152
    Quote Originally Posted by Gabriel Esteves View Post
    I think the great problem about "obscenity" in literature is it's own triviality. There's no "shock" in doing what is completely normal in an everyday dialogue, and repetition just produces mass literature, that is entertainment, and that's ok, but nothing that will persist for centuries (it will never be a classic). The less an author utilizes explicit sexual scenes, for exemple, the most he will seek for a way-out to show what is the scene about. Surely that's only applicable in literature of our time, it was very new talking about sex in the XIX century! Looking that way, obscenity can be very productive and can estimulate great discussions about sentiments, writing styles, techiniques, etc. I don't want to be the guy labeling literature, anyway; I mean, it's all about style. Which one your prefer, that's the best for you.
    I agree completely. It all depends on the situation the character(s) finds himself in. If you find yourself on the wrong end of a shootout, there's a good chance you're not going to be thinking very nice words in your head to describe the situation. On the other hand if you're sitting down in the living room enjoying a cup of tea with dear old mom, there's also a good chance you won't be talking to her in an obscene way. It's all a matter of context, and if the situation calls for the use of profanity or obscene acts. This is what any writer/director should strive towards to make their stories as believable as possible.
    "When I understand my enemy well enough to defeat him, in that moment, I also love him." - Ender Wiggin

  9. #9
    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Location
    The USA... or thereabouts
    Posts
    6,076
    Blog Entries
    78
    We should remember that what we speak of as "profanity" is not something new to literature. Greek, Roman, Medieval (Chaucer?) and later (Lawrence Sterne, Jonathan Swift, John Wilmot...) was laden with profanity and vulgarity. Some was intended to shock... but a great deal was intended to convey a greater degree of realism. If the characters in a work speak a certain way, one way of capturing or conveying this character is to employ his or her manner of speech. We see this in Chaucer where different characters speak in a different manner and employ different vocabulary. If I were portraying one of my tough, inner-city, urban, teen-aged students, it would be as absurd to clean up their speech and have them exclaim, "Well golly gee wizz, Mr. K.!" as it would to have them intone, "Thou naughty varlet!" or "By Gis and by Saint Charity, Alack, and fie for shame!"
    Beware of the man with just one book. -Ovid
    The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.- Mark Twain
    My Blog: Of Delicious Recoil
    http://stlukesguild.tumblr.com/

  10. #10
    Alea iacta est. mortalterror's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
    Location
    LA
    Posts
    1,905
    Blog Entries
    39
    Profanity in the Old Testament:
    Interestingly, the Bible contains different words and phrases that can be equated to today's profanity without using the same words. For example, an angry King Saul called his son, "You son of a perverse and rebellious woman," which sounds an awful lot like "SOB" (I Samuel 20:30). "Two smoldering stubs of firewood" (Isaiah 7:4) is used similarly to calling someone a piece of [email protected]#$. "Am I a dog's head?" sounds very much like asking, "Am I a [email protected]$$?" (II Samuel 3:8). Asking "What are those feeble Jews doing?" sounds very much like a racial slur (Nehemiah 4:2). http://www.ehow.com/about_4599931_pr...sed-bible.html
    Profanity in Catullus:
    Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo. -Carmen 16

    Archilochus uses profanity when he loses his shield on the battlefield and elsewhere describes graphic sex acts and bodily fluids. I don't feel like hunting for it now, but I'd be surprised if two soldiers didn't insult each other somewhere in Homer's Iliad. StLukesGuild is right, profanity in literature is not a new thing.
    "So-Crates: The only true wisdom consists in knowing that you know nothing." "That's us, dude!"- Bill and Ted
    "This ain't over."- Charles Bronson
    Feed the Hungry!

  11. #11
    Banned
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
    Posts
    1,780
    Blog Entries
    7
    Quote Originally Posted by 108 fountains View Post
    But this glut of profanity in modern literature makes me feel disappointed – no, dismayed – that modern writers are unable to express themselves without resorting to profanity. To me, it is a matter of taste. I find unnecessary profanity to be tasteless. I wonder what other Forum participants think.
    I myself am disappointed that English Romantic poets were unable to express themselves without resorting to descriptions of the natural world.

    No, seriously, how is one mode of expression superior to the other? The last chapter of Ulysses is divine, and includes a wonderful usage of the phrase "lick my sh*t". In fact I'll quote from that same chapter here:

    "...I heard those cornerboys saying passing the corner of Marrowbone lane my aunt Mary has a thing hairy because it was dark and they knew a girl was passing it didnt make me blush why should it either its only nature..."

    Indeed. There is nothing preventing one from swearing creatively and well. As for unnecessary profanity being tasteless, that seems like a tautology to me. Unnecessary words of any kind in a text indicate a lack of taste, not just profanity.

  12. #12
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Posts
    533
    Quote Originally Posted by 108 fountains View Post
    .

    Personally, I see little need or use to fill novels or stories with four-letter words, whether they are spelled out in letters or asterisks. I can understand, perhaps, if a writer uses profanity in dialogue that is meant to be gritty and realistic, or if a writer intends to portray the same attributes when writing in the first person, although it is my own opinion that a good writer can convey the same ideas without resorting to profanity. .
    Context is everything. Personally I don't have a problem with it. If an author (or musician or artist) is simply trying to shock, well, then it can be irritating and even a little pathetic (like an adolescent showing off to his friends). Here in the UK there are loads of hip young artists centred on London who are always in the news because they have produced some (yawn) 'outrageous' work of art that they seem to think 'is gonna shock the squares'. In fact, this particular square is always just bored. But I have read books that disturbed me and that I felt were an evil influence, books that I wish weren't out there in the world- but never because they used 4 letter words. What is the worst that can happen? Someone starts swearing a bit more?! It is when a work of art glorifies and encourages violence, cruelty, rape etc that I feel uneasy. Take a novel like Lady Chatterley's Lover. There were attempts to have this banned because Lawrence used sexually explicit language. The male lover talks about the woman '****ting' and uses the words '****' and '****'. But this is within a loving, tender, mutually respectful relationship. I doubt anyone has ever been influenced to behave worse after reading the novel. Whereas there is a Bukowski novel in which he boasts about rape. He doesn't use any explicit language, yet I find that far, far more disturbing than the Lawrence passages. Or take Fanny Hill. I have always disliked that novel intensely. Essentially it is the story of a very young girl (14 or 15) whose parents die and who is tricked into prostitution. She doesn't choose the life from a position of strength and independence. People take advantage of her vulnerable position and the author simply accepts this as perfectly normal. Again, there is very little 'dirty' or crude language in the novel but, if I got my kicks from abusing vulnerable girls, I'd take this novel as a green light.
    Last edited by WICKES; 02-25-2014 at 02:08 PM.

  13. #13
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Posts
    35
    Unlike real life, literature must make sense and words must drive the story. Profanity in most cases is a useless filler, and generally shows the writer to be an amateur who can't shut off his or her own inner voice long enough to hear the voice of the character. Cursing has a place in writing, but is best used sparingly. The argument that one must make the dialogue sound "realistic" is a lazy argument.

  14. #14
    Registered User Frostball's Avatar
    Join Date
    Nov 2013
    Location
    Memphis, TN
    Posts
    164
    Quote Originally Posted by Lykren View Post
    As for unnecessary profanity being tasteless, that seems like a tautology to me. Unnecessary words of any kind in a text indicate a lack of taste, not just profanity.
    This is what came to my mind right when reading the OP. In my opinion, there is literally no distinction between obscenity and regular language. Every word is just a word that has definitions, connotations, and expresses some kind of communication. The dichotomy between "nice" words and "bad" words strikes me as entirely artificial and cultural. All while I was growing up I wondered why certain sounds uttered by me could get me in trouble, when it clearly does absolutely nothing to anybody.

    Lykren has it right, it isn't overusing profanity that is a problem, it's overusing any word that makes an author comes off as amateurish, lazy, and uncreative. So to the question of whether or not authors should use profanity my answer is a definite "why not?"

  15. #15
    Registered User Jes Grew's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Posts
    2
    Quote Originally Posted by stlukesguild View Post
    We should remember that what we speak of as "profanity" is not something new to literature. Greek, Roman, Medieval (Chaucer?) and later (Lawrence Sterne, Jonathan Swift, John Wilmot...)
    Don't forget Voltaire. I instantly thought of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester. Though he wasn't accepted as literature until hundreds of years later. Sometimes profanity is perfect (like Burroughs) but it definitely depends on context. Think of "Tropic of Cancer." Any omittance of profanity would ruin the effect. But, I agree, anyone who is using profanity in the third person either lacks vocabulary, content, or is downright lazy. There's too many words to choose from.

    If it's in speech I have no complaints, because most people today (and I'm assuming in the past) have spoken with profanity in everyday speech at some point.

Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast

Similar Threads

  1. British Literature vs. American Literature
    By Brendan Madley in forum General Literature
    Replies: 266
    Last Post: 09-02-2011, 09:36 PM
  2. Profanity in Novels
    By keilj in forum General Literature
    Replies: 155
    Last Post: 04-03-2010, 11:17 AM
  3. Replies: 4
    Last Post: 01-11-2007, 04:02 AM
  4. Need book with list of literature-all literature-please help
    By steve_y in forum General Literature
    Replies: 3
    Last Post: 07-10-2006, 11:35 AM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •