Swearing, Cursing, Cussing & Expletives

If you have been around the car scene, you may have seen this sticker on some cars in varying versions, but there is a word missing here, and if you aren’t familiar  with it, it starts with an F. Yes, and this has me furrowing my brow. How, please tell me, is saying that classy? What an oxymoron, and to me literature is much the same.

There has been a lot of debate on the topic of swearing, cursing, cussing and anything else one would like to call it in literature. It seems to be a hot button in the particular area of young adult fiction. The question is whether or not it is really okay to use in a book. Yes, most teenagers swear,but not all of them, and even so:

  • Is it needed to make the dialogue realistic?
  • What swears are acceptable?
  • What swears aren’t acceptable?
  • What to do instead of swearing?

So, it is needed to make dialogue realistic? No, I don’t feel it is. I’ll be honest with you, I swore when I was a teenager (not so long ago), and I even swear as an adult, but those circumstances are far and few between. When I do swear I can tell you that something really really bad has to have happened for me to use the F word. So, in turn my characters do not ever use that language. I can say my characters do occasionally call people a***s, say s***t, damn or hell. These are swears that I find to be fine in YA literature, but I don’t think they should be used every five seconds. For me, when a person swears it is harsh on my ears, and therefore when I read swears it makes me stop reading. I usually continue, but I know for a fact if a character started dropping the F bomb every five seconds I would throw the book against the wall. I’ll own to this being my opinion. You can tell which swears I think are less acceptable by the fact that I ** them out. That means I use them very sparingly. In fact this is the tally for each of those swears from:

In Between Seasons (49,000 words total)




Hell-33 (in some contexts this was not used as a swear. As in “I knew I was going to Hell.”)

Walking in the Shadows (58,000 words total)





OH, and there were 2 instances of the B word in this novel–ah, well!

That means that in either novel the percentage of swears is way less than 1%.

So, I think that you can see that the F word to me, is not something to use in YA. Teenagers pretty much call everyone the B word, but there’s ways around this, like calling someone a TOOL. That one works fine, but only if not overused. In the case of my novel, it didn’t work, so I did opt for the B word. Anything that you can think of that is worse than the F word you will not see it in any of my novels, or anything I read.

What does an author do then, when not using swears? I’ve seen some say that you can only use hokey words like H-E-Double hockey sticks. No, this is not needed, please do not do this–it’s worse than the swear itself! It draws even more unneeded attention to the words. Honestly, just omit the swear completely, and you pretty much are good to go. There are some times a character will swear, but as you have seen it needs to be pertinent to the situation in my writing.

In the end it’s a personal choice for a person to swear, and therefore it is also a personal choice for an author to decide what amount of swearing and which swears to employ in their writing. I personally try to keep a wide range of readers in mind, and some of those readers might find offense to those words. I don’t know as I have never asked, but I don’t think readers are offended when there isn’t swears…That is unless you use the hokey pokey “Oh, fudgesicles” then your book might end as a hole in the wall too.


Back to the car scene, I like this saying…so I changed it around a bit for the sticker on my pinked out car. It’s the same for my writing.

I just like to keep it:


What do you think? To swear or not to swear?





10 thoughts on “Swearing, Cursing, Cussing & Expletives

  1. It depends on the book. I write edgy YA, and I will, and most certainly do, use swearwords for realism. I write about rough neighbourhoods in New Zealand and every New Zealander (Kiwi) will know it’s not realistic if I don’t have these words in. But, there are some characters that swear more than others. For example, one of my characters may only use the F word once in the whole book when she is pushed over the limit, whereas another character can be spouting it off a hell of lot more. And your percentages, I don’t even want to tell you mine 🙂 But, as I say, I use it in the right context and situation, and I have come across books that don’t, like Effie in the Skins novel, who just uses the F word for the sake of it, to the point where even I (the advocate for using it in edgy YA novels) was getting annoyed.

    And curses … the use of hell and damn is so blasé that I don’t even think it warrants mentioning them. I can understand people not liking the f, c and s words, but damn and hell, that’s just being uptight to the max. And I will often put down a YA book if I think the writer has lost touch with how teenagers are. Instead, they are too concerned with disneyfying everything, and wrapping teenagers up in an unrealistic blanket of false security, leading them to believe things about life that are simply not true. I personally would prefer my teen to know what the real world is like, so I steer her towards the edgy YA books that can teach her something rather than those fantasy stories where a girl blubbers over an unrealistically good-looking male.

    P.S. Thanks for the post, this is a good topic to discuss.

    • Yes, I would say my novels aren’t exactly edgy, or urban–it sounds as if yours are, and it fits your situation. I have my characters talk like I think they would as real people, and they don’t have the personalities were they would swear. If they did, I think it would stick out and pull the readers from the novel. It seems I have hit on a very controversial topic, and thanks for contributing!

  2. I agree that swearing is not always the best way to get a point across. I don’t write YA but I do use swear words only when needed and not all my characters use them. I think they are needed only in certain situations where no other word will do. Great post!

    • My first adult novel, more mature YA novel, Let the Fate’s Decide, has a scene where the character tells someone to F off. The situation calls for it though, as someone is trying to kill someone near and dear to her! I still don’t know about it though because it isn’t my writing style (as you can see by the post!), so I will have to see what the betas think!

  3. I find it annoying when YA authors go to great, great lengths to avoid swear words.
    Like you said, too much attention drawn to them.
    Damn and hell aren’t so bad anyhow. It flows, unlike the f, c, and *shudders* the synonym for cat. However, sh** and damn are personal favorites of mine, when I get bullied by walls and furniture. I know you can figure that word out. 🙂
    Anyway, I don’t like it when they cuss in every other sentence, per se, but I do feel a sense of immature glee when the character tells someone to F*** off or that he’s an a**hole…
    If I like the character, of course.
    If not, then they can go to Hell H-E-Double hockey sticks, for all I care. 🙂

    XOXO Kim the Snuggle

  4. Great post! As a writer who doesn’t swear, I was kind of surprised when one of my characters turned out to have quite a mouth on him! But it fits him.
    I think that sometimes the sound of the actual swear words are necessary. The “f-bomb” is a bomb for a reason- that gutteral vowel and the hard consonant, plenty of air provided by the “f”… “Crap” is rarely an acceptable substitute! It’s too heady and sounds a little wimpy.
    I love this post! Keep it up!

  5. I don’t mind swear words, as long as it’s not 20 f’s per page or the writer is doing it for shock value. I get enough shocks when I go out in public! It is normal for some characters to use swears – that’s real life. Heck, I use them. I think it was my mother who told me that use of swear words indicates a lack of vocabulary (I have used that missive on a few people!). But, Mom was swearing plenty her last few years!

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