My mother always referred to profanity as “vulgar talk.” Even though she used a few of the choice terms herself, she had a name for those words. I grew up hearing them and eventually adopted some terms into my own vocabulary. I’m not sure if using that language was a rite of passage or more of an evolution.
But all that changed one afternoon in a small classroom.
Several students had volunteered to help me set up Chemistry labs for the following day. (They were an awesome bunch of kids. My academic equivalent to the Fab Five. Best students ever.) Anyway, during setup, my bangle bracelet brushed up against a charger on my desk and delivered a nice shock to my wrist that shot up my forearm like a rabid fox with lightning bolt fangs. Too bad it wasn’t a lab set up for conductivity.
Cue the scene from “A Christmas Story.” You know the one, with the flat tire, the bowl of lug nuts, and the panicked wishes that the word that had rolled out would have been FUDGE. My students snickered, I mean, I cussed loudly, on the cusp of yelling without restraint right in front of them. But I was embarrassed that I let that word slip in a school setting. (Luckily, it was after class. I might have crawled under my desk had the classroom been full.) I apologized to the group, none seemed offended or even cared. But I made a very conscious decision to trim those words from my vocabulary. And it was similar to smoking. Once I quit, I was really done.
But when I began writing, I found that some of my characters used profanity. And I couldn’t stop them. I mean, technically, I could, but I shouldn’t. Profanity serves a function. It can help set the tone of a scene or help develop character. It summarizes sentiments in fewer words. It’s adaptable; some of the terms can be verbs, adjectives, adverbs, or exclamations. And sometimes it provides humor. (My Cousin Vinny would be half as long and not nearly as funny if they cut the profanity.) It’s like spice in a recipe, each dish requires a different amount and sometimes none at all.
When it comes to profanity, I don’t mind hearing, seeing it, reading it, or using it in my writing. But I’d be more convincing using a British accent than throwing around the f word.
Does profanity impact what you read or write?