The Eff word, #^$&*% and You.


You have been warned.

There’s been a lot of discussion over at the RWA’s Yahoo Group site on the topic of using the Eff word.The message boards have been plastered with comments regarding the pros, the cons, and the sheer ookieness of the neutron-smashing F-Bomb for some people.

Maybe it’s just me, could be my circle of friends, but I don’t have an issue when it comes to swearing in film or fiction. I don’t feel prudish or outraged when I hear fuck or that other word that starts with c (which seems to have supplanted fuck as THE most offensive word). Anyone who spends time around military men, automotive mechanics, teenagers, men, sporting events, athletes, teenagers, College students, teenagers, Gen-xers in their late 30s and Early 40s, anyone who reads contemporary fiction, not just contemporary romance, and genre fiction like spy novels, science fiction novels (OK, I admit I love the cuss words they made up in Firefly, the 80s version of Battlestar Galactica [can I get a frack?], The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ), as well as contemporary "Literature," must be familiar with the fact swearing and cursing happens.

And it may be good for you too.

According to How Stuff Works

In early childhood, crying is an acceptable way to show emotion and relieve stress and anxiety. As children, (especially boys) grow up, Western society discourages them from crying, particularly in public. People still need an outlet for strong emotions, and that’s where swearing often comes in.


A lot of people think of swearing as an instinctive response to something painful and unexpected (like hitting your head on an open cabinet door) or something frustrating and upsetting (like being stuck in traffic on the way to a job interview). This is one of the most common uses for swearing, and many researchers believe that it helps relieve stress and blow off steam, like crying does for small children.

Beyond angry or upset words said in the heat of the moment, swearing does a lot of work in social interactions. In the past, researchers have theorized that men swear to create a masculine identity and women swear to be more like men. More recent studies, however, theorize that women swear in part because they are emulating women they admire.

In addition, the use of particular expletives can:

  • Establish a group identity
  • Establish membership in a group and maintain the group’s boundaries
  • Express solidarity with other people
  • Express trust and intimacy (mostly when women swear in the presence of other women)
  • Add humor, emphasis or "shock value"
  • Attempt to camouflage a person’s fear or insecurity.

How Stuff  Works goes further to say:

Many studies suggest that the brain processes swearing in the lower regions, along with emotion and instinct. Scientists theorize that instead of processing a swearword as a series of phonemes, or units of sound that must be combined to form a word, the brain stores swear words as whole units [ref]. So, the brain doesn’t need the left hemisphere’s help to process them. Swearing specifically involves:

  • The limbic system, which also houses memory, emotion and basic behavior. The limbic system also seems to govern vocalizations in primates and other animals, and some researchers have interpreted some primate vocalizations as swearing.
  • The basal ganglia, which play a large role in impulse control and motor functions.

So, you can think of swearing as a motor activity with an emotional component.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have shown that the higher and lower parts of the brain can struggle with each other when a person swears
. A New York Times article cites several other studies that involve how a healthy brain processes swearing. For example, the brains of people who pride themselves on being educated respond to slang and "illiterate" phrases the same way they do to swearwords. In addition, in studies in which people must identify the color a word is written in (instead of the word itself), swearwords distract the participants from color recognition. You can also remember swearwords about four times better than other words.

All hail the mighty limbic system!

I don’t feel bad when I’m stormin’ around and fire off a few (avert your eyes now if you don’t want to see it in print, again) fucks. In fact, I feel better. Just ask Shrinky.

When I write a character who swears I feel I am being true to that imaginary person’s temperament. I am also being true to the time, to the contemporary world around me. Although a romance novel has the fantasy of romantic love at its core, the fantasy does not have to extend to the rest of the fictional world in which it exists. We could get into a discussion about fantasy, tales and the relation to romance, about inspirational romance and fantasy, about Harlequin-Mills & Boon, about fairy tales and the fantasy perpetuating myths of femininity…but that’s another day’s work. My point is, if a contemporary romance addresses real-life issues like rape, single parenthood, alcoholism, it can also include some swearing. If you pick up a novel and you find a fuck, put it down and look for something else.

Or ignore the colourful language, continue reading, and you may just find out that you enjoy the story, the same way you enjoy life
despite the moments when you overhear occasional colourful cussing.