gol-durn dadgum frickin’

5/16/05

When we were working on 13th-GEN, one of the biggest arguments I got into with Neil and Bill was my use of swear words in the book. Both of them absolutely loathed my use of them, but I was convinced that any book that purported to explain the habits of my generation without using profanity was like writing the history of the Inuit and leaving out snow.

I was so adamant that I took my case to the head of our division at Random House and demanded to see him in person. I can’t imagine having those balls now, but I was 24 and since the whole thing had come so easily, I thought book deals were like low-hanging fruit. I don’t know how I did it, but I convinced him to let me have 1 F-word, 2 s-words, and I think 3 “god damns.” Neil and Bill were very gracious about it, although if it had been me, I would have ridden my 24-year-old ass out of town on a rail for being such a twerp.

Profanity is something that is untranslatable to most people over 50. It physically pains them to hear most swear words, especially the “f” one, even as we (the relatively young in America) bandy it about with the ease of a moist preposition. My friends and I went to great schools, some of us have written for this nation’s finest papers, and still, when we get together, we say “fuck” or “fuckin'” about 15 times a minute without even knowing it.

I bring this up because my stepmom and my dad have said that they’d love to show this blog to several of their friends – some of them, let’s just say, having attained various high levels in certain fields that I find interesting – and they can’t bring themselves to do it because of all the swearing.

I responded a variety of ways, all of them mostly true:

1) anyone who is offended by my blog is probably a bad relationship waiting to happen

2) a blog by definition is a stream-of-consciousness art form that allows for offhanded profanity

3) if somebody likes my writing in here, they can probably deduce that it is possible to write without swearing

4) I write these in first drafts only, and if I have to go through the effort of bowdlerizing, it will be too much effort and I’ll just stop doing it altogether

Of all of these, the last is probably the most relevant, as I have continued to come to this space, even back when my only readers were Tessa and my mom, because I can vent. If I didn’t have this little breakfast nook in cyberspace after the 2002 elections, the 2004 elections, the Iraq war, various indie film horrorshows and kidney stones, then I’d be forced into temporary autism, writing on the wall backwards with crayons. I know profanity is often the easy way out, but it’s SO SATISFYING.

Unfortunately, written profanity – like FUCK – have much more power to the human brain than an offhanded comment. I’d say the severity of profanity written versus utttered is about tenfold, which means you have to use it a tenth as less. I haven’t read I Am Charlotte Simmons, but apparently Tom Wolfe tries to use “fuck” as much as college kids do, and it’s quite off-putting.

I never meant this blog to be a career helper, but it did spawn a couple of Salon articles, an editorial in the New York Times, and a few book proposals. Is my casual use of profanity keeping me down? I put it to you, brave comrades and commenters: when I swear, does it bum you out? I mean, unduly?

0 thoughts on “gol-durn dadgum frickin’

  1. mom

    It doesn’t bother me, as I’m sure you are aware. You’ve heard ME blow off steam, for heaven’s sake. It doesn’t even bother some of my more conservative Mormon friends who read this blog. (Or so they tell me. And no, I don’t show it to Auntie Donna). If it serves as therapy, that’s fine. Just don’t confuse it with elegant writing. And most of the time, your profanity is more than compensated for by your wit, insight, and great style. And of course, pictures of Lucy.
    But in fact, I really do have a problem with otherwise good plays, movies and TV shows that use the F word every five minutes or oftener. One of my faves is HBO’s “Six Feet Under”. It feels contrived with its constant F word jambovee, and it mars an otherwise brilliant and original show (in my never humble opinion). I first got this feeling watching a great movie several years ago… “Midnight Run”… in which the 2,307 uses of some form of “fuck” made me long for ANY OTHER adjective, adverb, expletive… anything.
    But then I’m old and crochety….

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  2. lee

    I think on of the greatest things about your blog is that you’re not playing by “the rules”. In fact, I told Tessa way back that I loved reading your stuff so much because you wrote about things that really mattered, with a lot of insight and that you would put “fucking” in front of a GRE word. I love that about you. Keep it real!

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  3. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    I don’t like the F word. I think it is overused and very plebeian. The only time I use it is when I am really mad, and I say it when I am alone. To be honest, I think the word is offensive. I read Tom Wolfe’s book (don’t bother. . . it is too long and not interesting enough to warrant the length), and each time he used profanity, I envisioned him in his dapper white suit, legs crossed elegantly, trying to be hip, uttering the word in an awkward, unnatural way. It was very distracting.
    The only time I don’t mind the F word is when I watch “The Sopranos” and “Goodfellas.” It adds to the authenticity.
    All that said, I don’t care how many times you use the F word. I love the way you think and write, and I don’t even notice when you use profanities. Don’t censor yourself for your readers! If you want to say F, say F!
    Oh, do you think you will say the F word as much when Lucy is talking? You have 2 years until that happens, but I was just wondering.

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  4. cathie

    to me there is a big difference between profanity and obscenity. profanity is taking the Lord’s name in vain, which if you are a believer is quite disturbing, and if you are not, it is just sort of inane (isn’t it just someone’s name then? you might as well shout out your own)
    obscenity is just dirty words, and i think that is more a matter of taste. i personally use the ‘f’ word a lot – it is just sort of a marker, and i agree for those in our generation it is a quite common modifier. although i also agree that sometimes in writing it is the path of least resistance – it would be more interesting to channel the rage into other words. but not offensive.

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  5. oliver

    I say you tell people who don’t like it to just go fudge themselves. But seriously, the swearing makes it feel real and intimate and less soap boxy.

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  6. CL

    Here’s a test. Say you’re walking down the street. Say you hear an 8-year-old boy, or a girl, for that matter, say, “Fuck you.”
    It’s just words. Why does it bother you so much?
    Maybe because you wonder what an 8-year-old has to be so angry about.
    I don’t swear much, and I’m a lib’ral person and I know they’re just words. But I also have a deep gratitude for the world I’m living in, and I know I have it better than a lot of people.
    If you feel that strongly about anything, anything at all, then for f’s sake, swear. I don’t think you should edit. Personally, it doesn’t bother me when you swear. Usually you’re full of passion about something. And as you said, it’s your blog and you shouldn’t have to edit.
    But when people overuse it to make a point or get attention, it loses its effect eventually.
    I agree with Mom – comics that rely on it to make their jokes funny are lame. So is anyone, actually, who needs to say “F” to make a point.
    If it seems like I’m being wishy washy, what I’m trying to say is that there is a time for “fuck” and a time for “fudge.” I trust most people to know the difference. I don’t blame your relatives for feeling uncomfortable. I also don’t blame you for being so angry sometimes.

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  7. Alan

    I don’t know what it says about me that I have never noticed your swearing. You swear when you are angry. I don’t think the eight year old test is relevant as you are not writing to an eight year old. If friggity-fuck-fuck-fuck doesn’t spring from your lips upon hammering your thumb or FUCKNUT!!! implode into your brain when you hear of a political argument which is simply void yet compelling to a majority of the population, I do not know how your brain works.
    To be fair, I think co-opting fuck for Gen Xers is not accurate. I dimly recall an early mid-70s National Lampoon album that included a cut on the gazillion uses for fuck. I do not think it was a George Carlin bit but it was certainly in the same style. Think of Cheech and Chong, too. These were comedians who spoke for one part of the boomers – sure the stoner hippy part but not Gen X at all. Maybe, though, the forefucking fathers of our humour in a sense.

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  8. Annie

    I’m just glad to be reminded daily that there’s at least one person out there who swears as much as I do!

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  9. caroline

    no problem. It’s part of the wallpaper, yes? and btw, i do fall into the dread 50+ gen. barely. still can’t believe it, tho.

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  10. Anne D.

    If you are asking me as a blog reader: I don’t give a flying fuck.
    If you ask me as an editor: I would ask you in turn what your purpose is in blogging. Whom do you wish to reach and affect with your writing? If the answer is, “A wide audience spanning both youthful and aging demographics,” I’d advise you to be more strategic (in this case, parsimonious) with your use of profanity. Let it have maximum impact *and* effectiveness by not overusing it.
    Remember, too, that one person’s “shit” is another’s “fuck.” I.e., there is a hierarchy of profane expressions, and some readers will be offended by the word “sucks” while others skim right over “cunt.” (Even I flinch at bit at the latter.) You can’t possibly please everyone.
    I am 53 and swore my way through several decades of adulthood, but let me just add, Ian, that you may be amazed, when your little girl gets old enough to talk and comprehend, how you will trim those “fucks” out of your conversations! Or maybe not, but my husband and I sure did.
    Interesting question. Hope you enjoy all the answers.
    – Anne

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  11. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    You know, I agree with Alan. I don’t think Gen-Xers drop the F bomb nearly as much as those older than us. I honestly don’t think that the use of profanity is so intrinsic to our generation. I don’t remember my friends using that much profanity through school or now. Perhaps we are just dull.
    I can’t believe that you took this argument to the honcho at Random House. What a piece of work you were!

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  12. kent

    I don’t care if you cuss. And I grew up with it too, and I’m going to be 48. I think you need to recalibrate your old-o-meter; the people who were 18 when Mario Savio was doing the Free/Filthy speech movement in Berkley in 1965 are 63 this year. It’s the ‘Greatest Generation’ who are the most viscerally offended by profanity, and only some of them. Anyone who fought in World War II heard enough cussing to desensitize them entirely.
    On the other hand, any serious writing, where by serious I mean writing meant for publication and to be read by others in the future, shouldn’t have profanity in, except to authentically reproduce spoken language.
    In my own Blog I tend to use profanity pretty sparingly. I actually like the euphemisms like ‘effing’ and ‘fricking’ etc because they they are tonal variations on the theme. Like “Eff the effing Effers” has a completely different feel and emotional effect compared with the unbowdlerized version.

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  13. Piglet

    “What do you MEAN I can’t say fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckittyFUCK anymore?” –PapercutMan

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  14. Beth

    I read right over swear words without batting an eye if they’re germane to the text or the writer. I’d argue that they’re both in your blog. But they do have their place–for one thing, to use them often is to weaken their power–and I don’t think their use is generational anymore. I’m 35, and my parents always said that since they swore, they wouldn’t restrict my swearing as a kid. Somehow I managed to osmose context and embarrass them very seldom (though I recall one blue moment with my grandmother that embarrassed *me* in the end). These days I cuss like a sailor among friends and family, when I’m aiming to widen someone’s eyes, and when I drop something on my foot, regardless of the company I’m in.

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  15. Tim

    Ian-keep swearing. Carlin has a great bit about profanity being a needed spice to the stew of commentary. To the turds who were put off by the BAD WORDS on this blog,lighten the fuck up.

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  16. Andrew

    This comes from a person who reads your blog daily but who has neither the ability nor the desire to write for a living, so take it with a grain of salt:
    1. Do not change how you write. You have had a loyal readership since at least Wednesday’s Child and your writing is more fun to read now as it was then.
    2. When used sparingly in writing, F commands attention. Like: PREPARE FOR MORE DEFEAT, O FOES OF THE ACC! THE TAR HEELS ARE ON THE 2005 REVENGE TOUR AND YOU’RE FUCKING NEXT!!! Perfection.
    3. When used in line at the grocery store, as it was this week by a lady behind me looking for a coupon [“oh fuck, where the fuck did I put that fucking thing”], it can be a bit offensive to some.
    4. I used to curse all the time but have reduced my cursing since the birth of my daughter. Because I have become somewhat accustomed to not cursing in everday language, to hear someone curse in normal conversation sounds inappropriate and…ahem…rather plebeian.
    5. Of course, I did yell F when I did in fact crush my thumb with a hammer while resealing a can of paint several weeks ago. Hurt like a bitch.
    That said, it is your blog and your words. Do what you want.

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  17. craighill

    ian – no worries re. the swearing – not going to bother anyone worth bothering i wouldn’t think. wolfe’s new one is worth the read – not great but good. go heels.

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  18. badbob

    As a retired sailor I say what the fuck. Go fucking ahead.Swearing has a rich tradition in literature and the blogosphere. Stay away from the caps for emphasis though, it makes you seem like a JH student trying to outrage the parents..
    Now that being said..what the “FUCK” compelled you to rant in your Holy Sh’ite blog so fast? That Newsweek article had you blaming America, it’s leadership, it’s military and folks like me. What about a little re-direction for your “red-headed wrath” to the MSM?
    #$%^#$..dammit
    b2

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  19. Tanya

    I’m diggin Anne D.’s post! I actually snorted Diet Coke out of my nose with her opening line.
    As for me, I cuss like crazy all the time with my husband and friends. Never at work. Then again, I’m an announcer for a classical music station and I’m in corporate communications for a large, Fortune 250 company, so that should probably go without saying, eh?
    I once heard/read somewhere about the appeal of cuss words and how it had to do with the actual vowels and consonants blending together. So, aside from the obvious shock value that comes with it, the reason why people say “FUCK” is that it actually FEELS good. And so they proceeded to list a number of subsitute words with a similar “feel.” My favorite (and the only one I remember) was the replacement of “Jesus Christ!” with “Cheese and Rice!”
    It’ll come in handy now that Caleb is turning into a 19-month old parrot.

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  20. Susan

    The swearing doesn’t bother me as I swear quite a bit myself. So does my husband. What we call “selective swearing”….not in public, not at each other in anger, and occassionally with friends who cuss more than we do. There is the occasional “Shit!” when you drop something on your toe. This happened a couple of days ago to which my 20 month old son giggled and said “Sit!”. We were stunned and haven’t said a swear word since. Having a kid will make you rethink the swearing…but don’t cut it out of the blog.

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  21. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    Word up to Badbob! I had the same thoughts about your rant once the Newsweek fiasco unraveled. And you had to go and call all us Americans dumb and talk about flushing my Bible down the toilet. And it is Pentacost! I see your disclaimer. . . but what about the media? The liberal media who started all of this? Where is the cry out for accountability? I hate the media as much as you seem to hate our government. There is absolutely no accountability or sense of remorse on Newsweek’s part. Where is the honor in journalism???? Must be nice to be part of a profession where anything goes and no one has to check facts. Nice job security!

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  22. CL

    You know, I don’t think it’s intrinsic to our generation, either. I would guess that the generation below us will swear more, considering what is allowed on TV these days. It wasn’t so long ago that “ass” and “sucks” were banned from the networks. I can’t remember what the first two shows were who were allowed to use “ass,” but I think the first one was on CBS. Darn, why can’t I remember this? Oh wait, was it St. Elsewhere or something? Ah well.
    As for the person telling people to ‘lighten the fuck up’ – this entry was only stirred by the potential offense that could be taken by certain LDS relatives, who I’m sure can still enjoy mirth and happiness without the ‘f-bomb’ in their lives.

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  23. Laurie from Manly Dorm

    Uh, sorry, CL, but I just word up-ed you and then remembered that you work as an editor. I didn’t mean you, just the bad journalists, in my rant!

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  24. Kevin

    Ian,
    I say to you: Fuck those fucking fucks! You are writing uncensored thoughts and opinions, raw and true to life. If it is “off-putting”, as you say it may be, then let those who are faint of heart read Laura Bush’s blog, and leave those of us with a bit of common sense to our own devices. Oh, and shit-cock-monkey fucker-camel toe-ass-poop-balls-twat-porno-bastard-mother fucker-hell-damn-fart-hairy bleeding pussy. Sorry, had to get that out . . . .they are only words anyhow, and they have no meaning save what we give them.

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  25. oliver

    “what about the media? The liberal media who started all of this?”
    Fuck that noise. If the Bush administration weren’t a bunch of conspiratorial, ass-covering and vengeful anti-democratic FUCKS, reporters wouldn’t HAVE TO BE RELYING on leaks from unnamed MILITARY who either MAKE SHIT UP or ISSUE COWARDLY DENIALS after the fact under pressure. The problem isn’t left bias in the media, which is a crock-of-shit myth, it’s that we have an administration with such a proven record of egregious behavior domestically and abroad that even the most faintly rumored atrocity is credible.

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  26. Just Andrew

    sweating really bothers me – especially in closed spaces like an elevator – someone who just got back from a run and they are all sweaty – it just smells and is gross. Then there are those people who just sit on the couch, watching NASCAR and sweating – now thats disgusting.
    So I for one, am totally opposed to sweating.
    Or am I confused about the subject again? Is this just an allusion to something you haven’t fully shared with us? Oh well, fuck it.

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  27. Chris M

    The thing about swearing — and I swear plenty –is an often unrecognized social risk analogous to trying to supplement your cool quotient by smoking cigarettes. You believe you’re underscoring an emotional truth about some essential point when you say $*!&/#, but you really sound like Ron Howard cast in the role of Frank Booth: “Heineken!?! Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon!”

    Reply

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