An old post from last year on naughty words.
I’ve had a review of Motherlove, otherwise complimentary, but marked down because of the excessive use of obscenities, particularly F… Well I wouldn’t want to offend anyone in this post by writing it, but it’s derived from the Middle English word for copulation. And its original sexual connotation means it’s considered too rude to be allowed. It is still used, as a verb, in that context, perhaps with a sense of challenging bravado, though I wouldn’t use it myself because of its violent and predatory sound. The sound is everything, which is why mostly, these days, it’s used as an expletive.
In its defence, it is a perfect expletive. It’s sharp as gunfire, it begins with a fizzingly explosive sound, proceeds through the shortest hardest vowel and ends with the most violently cutting letter. What word is better to release a sudden internal boiling up of frustration and anger? You could control yourself and keep those emotions internal where they can ferment until you find yourself taking them out on other people, or you can let them out with one quick word and move on. Sorry, fiddlesticks or fishcake do not provide the same pressure-release valve. When used in such a context I, personally, don’t get in a fluster about it.
What depresses me is where it’s scattered indiscriminately like shot-gun pellets, slipped in as every other word in every sentence. It depresses me because it suggests a tragic poverty of language and thought, and a perpetual simmering of resentment, panic and anger in people helplessly drowning in the cesspit where life has dropped them. There it is, seeping out in everything they say, but what happens when there is a genuine need to scream aggravation? They have used up their options and perhaps physical violence is the only relief left to them.
So I accept that it is how some people talk, and while I don’t use it casually in straightforward narrative, I do put it in the mouths of sad characters who would naturally speak like that, because to keep their language polite would be to portray them as different characters altogether. Characters like Gary, in Motherlove, who is beyond hopeless, whose only way of coping with life is to align himself with the worst and nastiest hard men, to present himself as some sort of gangster that no one should risk messing with. Whereas, in reality, life has messed with him so much that he’s merely pathetic. Gary is doomed and his language shows it every time he opens his mouth.
I accept that some readers will find the obscenities discomforting and like the book less as a result, but I couldn’t do otherwise and still believe in Gary as a realistic character.