I’m going to take a moment out of my normally SUPER CLASSY fare and talk about cussing. It’s bad. Right? We’ve all be told since we were two that it’s bad to cuss. But we all do it. And, really, there’s nothing inherently bad about bad words. It’s how we use them that hurts. How and when we cuss says a lot about us. It’s the same with writing: how and when we cuss tells us something about us as writers and something our manuscripts as an exercise in language.
So, for curiosity’s sake, I decided to do a cuss count of my various projects.
Grove of Venus (90k words):
5 hells (three are literal)
2 bastard (one is literal)
2 f*cks (one character repeats what another says, ergo two)
2 asses (not including Harry! Oh man, that joke will never, ever get old)
Hamilton Gray (45k novella):
4 asses (not including Kleiner–See? It never gets old! Ever!)
The Cotton War (105k):
11 bastards (8 literal)
Relatively, my writing is pretty tame. I know some cuss counts would be way, way higher. There is only one word I will not use: the c word for a certain female body part. Otherwise, I’m open to cussing. But I use cusses for a point. As you can see, I like a good damn. I like a good ass (who the hell doesn’t?). F*cks? Well, use sparingly, you know? Many of these bad words I use literally, including f*ck. (What? She’s a prostitute for eff’s sake.)
Obviously, genre has a lot to do with the level of cussing. Historical isn’t generally filled with blue language like, for instance, hard-boiled mystery is. Victorians (Channing, The Cotton Wars, Hamilton Gray) were not as given to cursing as we are, and they certainly didn’t curse in quite the way we do. Sure, many of them cussed up a storm, but they didn’t say effing this and effing that (that wasn’t a “thing” until relatively recently). And middle-class Victorians cursed only fairly mildly and under certain circumstances. That being said, these are all adults, and bad words happen.
In Hamilton Gray, the cursing is something of a plot point. Hamilton apologizes for swearing, and Missy says, “I’ll be damned if I care.” Also, this is an old soldier, so, yes, he curses.
In Grove of Venus, I’m going for a particular tone. It’s fairly sedate and thoughtful, so there’s a tad less cursing.
I also–shh–slipped in an anachronistic curse: pussy. I debated over it, but I think I’m going to keep it. No, the word pussy didn’t have all the meaning in the mid-1800’s that it has now. But I know that word carries a lot of weight and connotations, and I needed to tap into that. No word from the time period really did quite the work that this word does for me. It’s a very important point in the story, actually. Everett is being surrounded and threatened, and they’re taunting him for being a pacifist. One of his assailants calls him a “pussy”. Because of Everett’s history with his cousin Harry, it’s ironic: Harry has been teased all his life as being a mama’s boy. Now he and his friends are using the same taunt.
But . . . mostly it’s just fun to count up the cuss words and giggle in childish glee that I’m an adult and can get away with it.