July 18, 2007

Sturm and *#)@^%|#|(^$)*^ Drang

I got a weird mail yesterday, weird in TONE, from a person with a gender neutral name, asking me why this blog almost NEVER has cussing in it, and when it does the entries title WARNS that bad language is about to ensue, and YET in gods in Alabama I felt a need to allow a TEEMING PLETHORA of double-plus naughty words to BREED and infest every chapter (I may be paraphrasing, rather than quoting here..) and yet the language in Between is only NAUGHTI-ESQUE, becoming FULL ON offensive only a couple of times, and then Person said he-or-she loved the books but wished I would eat soap and BY THE WAY, while Person was at it, decorum insisted that Person SHOULD pause to mention that especially considering the MILDER vocabulary, the SEX in Between was a wee bit on the GRAPHIC side, and did he-or-she-the-reader really need THAT level of detail about What Sometimes Happens Between Married People In The Bathroom? (Answer: Yes.)

Person and I back and forthed in email for a little, had a civil and very interesting talk, and I asked permission to blog about it. Person was fine with it. So.

I feel a blend of pleased and mildly exasperated. It’s as if a drive by shooter came and blasted away at a butt ugly flower pot that I had long been meaning to throw away and then sprayed an extra four bullets into my dead azalea bush before zooming off. Because, on the one hand, she (let’s make Person a she so I can quit with the hyphens) bought the books. Both of ‘em. Even after ONE had offended her, she found enough in there to love to buy the other. So. My first reaction is, ISN’T SHE PRETTY????? And then my second is, PERSON! THANK YOU, but if it bothers you that much, why are you READING it? I think I must feel…Pleasasperated?

I mean, far be it from me to discourage anyone from reading my books. I think EVERYONE IN AMERICA should read my books, and then buy gift copies for all their European friends. I don’t want to lose sight of that as I address her concerns here. PERSON BOUGHT MY BOOKS. I LOVE PERSON. FOREVER. THE END. But it’s VERY hard (impossible, actually, because here I am, saying it) to not say to her, “PERSON! When the first sentence of a book is, ‘There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniels, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus.’don’t you think you should maybe feel a mild frisson of precognitive warning that this is not going to be a particularly sugar-mouthed narrator?” ESPECIALLY given that Person IS the sort of person who doesn’t like to look at the letters BEE EYE GEE TEE EYE TEE ESS in conjunction with each other?

As for me…cussing? I don’t believe in it. I mean, I do not believe there is ANY SUCH THING. A word is a word is a word. I do not think there are any words that should be taboo. I have a wide vocabulary that can alternately make my SAT coach from 11th grade or a drunk sailor on leave sit up a little straighter, clearly impressed.

And I don’t think cussing is the sign of a poor vocabulary. Knowing only one word for vomit, say, is a sign of a poor vocabulary. Or not knowing what a prestidigitator is, this is a sign. Knowing cusses is just knowing more words. More words = more nuances of meaning so you can more accurately shade a sentence to express a thought.

I don’t think any combination of letters can BE intrinsically BAD or GOOD. A word is either appropriate for the moment and the company, or not appropriate. Any word can be USED for good or ill (both Pol Pot and Ghandi frequently employed “and” for example) but the word itself is inert and blameless.

While I have NEVER been one to accept situational morality, I AM, I confess, a situational LINGUIST. If you are alone in your garage and you bang your thumb with a hammer, there is only ONE word that EXACTLY expresses the moment, and it starts with an SH and ends in a gender-neutral pronoun. If you bang your same thumb with same hammer in front of my five year old daughter, then you better suck it up and say, “OH! POO! OH! OH! BIG POO!”

The end.

I have WEIRD ideas about propriety, BUT I try to ERR on the side of MANNERS. If a word MIGHT offend someone present, I think you choose not to say it. Period. My right to use the Very Bad F Word with mad abandon ends where the hearing range of the rigorous Catholic ears of your delightful granny begins. I think you don’t tell someone to grow up and get over it. You respect their sensibilities, and you choose another bleeping word. If you don’t, then I think you are a boor.

Also, you don’t cuss in front of kids because people my daughter’s age are not yet capable of making decisions about WHEN it is appropriate to use particular words. As soon as she is capable of making those distinctions for a word, she can use that word. For example, the VERY bad Eff Word…if she thinks it is EVER even REMOTELY appropriate for it to come out of her cupid’s bow mouth in the range of MY hearing, she is not ready. Saying The Very Bad Eff Word in front of your own personal mother is poor choice and can only end in weeping, heartfelt repentance and a mouth full of Zest.

Right now, ten year old Sam and I are negotiating for use of the word “Crap.”

Sam: *drops his Yu-Gi-Oh cards* Crap.
Me: You can’t say crap.
Sam: Is it a bad word? Because you say it, Mom, alla time.
Me: Crap is not a “bad word.” You can say it secretly in your room alone NOW. You can say it in front of me when you are 13. Also, you can’t say WHAT THE---- and then stop. It doesn’t sound NICE. You can say What the heckee, if you like, or you can say Great Googley Moogley. Yes. Say that.
Sam: Mom. I am NOT going to say Great Googley Moogley.
Me: Fine. But you can’t say crap.
Sam: What does the word Sexy mean?
Me: HEY! LOOK! SOMETHING SHINY!

No, actually, I explained what SEXY means and we negotiated terms for when it is an appropriate word for him to say. I was going for “Sexy may be used by Sam when he is over 35, assuming he is married, and assuming he is speaking to his wife, and assuming his mother is dead.” He negotiated me down quite a bit from that stance, so that he is allowed to sing the RIGHT SAID FRED song, but NOT allowed to refer to GIRLS, even ANIME ones, as sexy. Because it is not appropriate. AND ALSO because he will be sued for sexual harassment.

NOW this is all SPOKEN word stuff.

In a book, I think I am free to use whatever word best suits the moment. My books have covers that you must exercise free will in order to open, and they are shelved with the adult books at your friendly neighborhood lit-vendor. I use whatever word is needed for the sentence to do its job. Arlene? She had a MOUTH on her ---- I’ve talked about that on this blog before, why it was important on several levels to let Arlene talk that way.

In Between, Nonny Jane had a HUGELY different vocab from Arlene. Not just on the level of CUSSING; Nonny was not as educated (or as sophisticated, or as jaded) as Arlene, and her word choices reflect that. THE GIRL WHO STOPPED SWIMMING is written in directed third person, so there is LITTLE bad language in the text, but in the dialog everyone talks like they would talk. Some of the characters *cough* Thalia *cough* are not, shall we say, mouth-nuns.

Here on the net, I am more circumspect. I know there are people who come to this blog who would find the language in my books harsh and troubling, and since this is ME talking, not a character, I curb any tendency to be foul-mou----foul fingered?? or I warn you in the title that the vocab, she is going to get a leetle bit racy. Also, my OWN personal mother reads FTK, and remember the rule about F words and mothers? I don’t need any Zest and repentance today, thanks.

So what do you think I should say to my gentle-eared reader and others like her who ask me these things?

I am inclined toward something like this:

THANK YOU FOR BUYING MY BOOKS. I HEART YOU! LET’S BE BFF! PLEASE BUY THE NEXT ONE TOO, WITH THE UNDERSTANDING THAT IT MIGHT HAVE A SMALL BUCKET OF CUSS IN IT! ALSO A SMATTERING OF NAUGHTY MARRIED LOVE STUFF. XXOXOXOOX

And leave it at that.

But I would like to hear ya’lls opinions on wayward language. Are some words just BAD words? Should all words be useable in all places? Where are your lines? Is erring on the side of good manners prudent? Or merely prudish?

Seriously, I want to KNOW. I found your capitalist pig suggestions to be hugely helpful in deciding what avaricious acquisitions to give in to (TOWELS? Put on the Christmas list!!!! Elliptical---BUY IMMEDIATELY BEFORE MY BUTT INVADES FRANCE! Bedroom Furniture – tabled for further discussion! IPOD – Dude, I don’t like SONGS. What was I THINKING! Dyson? Watching Want Not for a link to a deal on a refurbished purple monster!) so I’d like to hear you chime in on this issue.

Posted by joshilyn at July 18, 2007 9:16 AM
Comments

I tend to agree with you, but I come into the issue of "If I wouldn't say it in front of my pastor, maybe I shouldn't say it at all..." So, I compromise and try my best not to cuss, but dude, when I stub my toe there is only a handful of words that makes that feel better, and "Fudge" ain't one of them.

In conclusion, it would seem I believe in situational language as well. Or that's what I'm going with, because otherwise I am willfully doing wrong.

Posted by: megan at July 18, 2007 10:17 AM

I hate to be so unoriginal, but I fully and completely agree with you. Words are not inherently bad or good. Words that encourage others to hate others *can* be bad - but that's simply the way some chosen words are particularly strung together in a sentence or paragraph or pamplet or whatnot.

The important thing is having the discretion to know what to use when - appropriateness is everything. When talking with some of my good friends and I'm particularly outraged, I'll use lots of "bad" words. When speaking to my mother, um, no.

I've learned the hard way that a five year old boy can and will repeat anything. Anywhere. At any time. (-:

You just keep on keepin' on. I'm like you - yea person for buying both books but all the same, if you're then going to complain about it...?

Posted by: Keetha at July 18, 2007 10:31 AM

I believe in situational language, too. Can't get the damn thing to work, is a good example. And I especially like mixing words up so they don't sound quite so ugly, like "the whole fam damily is coming over." To me anything that's used in conjunction with God's Name is inappropriate. Slang words for body parts is ok. Some parents I know restrict the words heck, golly, gosh, darn, dang because "they are just milder forms of hell, God and damn." They may have a point but when my five year old grandson said, "Oh. My. Gosh. That house fall down!" I thought it was hilarious. I told several people and the 7 year old grandson informed me they weren't supposed to say that word. Positive reinforcement from Granna for bad language. Way to go Granna! And Josh, I approached you at the Biltmore after your presentation and told you the first paragraph of god's in Alabama were the words that made me know I wanted to continue reading, you are my kind of author!

Posted by: Rhonda at July 18, 2007 10:31 AM

I guess I agree with you about situational language. I've certainly been known to use a curse word or two -- especially when I'm watching Georgia football and when I'm in the car. I think I try to take into account how other people perceive me. My husband works with a girl whose favorite expression is "lick my a**", which is just crude, so I think there's a difference in using curse words appropriately and just being crude. I guess that's where my biggest distinction comes in.

Yesterday when we were getting ready for school my 4 year old said "I hope the comb doesn't fall in the d*** trash can." I had a really hard time keeping a straight face.

Posted by: Leandra at July 18, 2007 10:32 AM

I completely agree with you and will now refer to myself as a situational linguist. I may even have a T-shirt made up. And respecting others is simply good manners. I'll go a step further and say that literature needs to be authentic and an author must be true to her characters. That means giving them a "potty-mouth" if it's appropriate.

However, her objection to the sex in Between puzzles me and I find myself wondering how I missed a salacious passage!!! Yes, I did listen to it as I was in labor, but to entirely miss a sexy scene? WTH? I must break out my copy and re-read. With purple highlighter in hand!

Posted by: Jennilynn at July 18, 2007 10:49 AM

1. I love 'pleasasperated' and will be adding it to my vocabulary tout de suite.

2. My philosophy is very close to yours. I do believe that there's a time and a place for strong language. The time and place for it is never when I'm at work, or visiting my grandmother. My husband and I write screenplays. Our profanity decisions are about character first, and then sometimes about audience. For example, we wrote a Christmas comedy where many of the main characters are elves. We made up elf profanity for them, because we are trying to sell that screenplay as a family comedy -- therefore, real profanity wouldn't work. We wrote another script where a character who doesn't swear as a rule (she's a belle) lets loose with a lifetime of stored profanity in a stressful moment.

My feeling is, they're words. I heart words. I use lots of them. There are a few that I don't use (really offensive racial slurs, mostly) but other than that I think they're all part of the richness of our language and I say, use 'em all! And yes, when you see "big tits" in the first sentence of a book... brace yerself, Bridget. Here there be swearing.

Posted by: Aimee at July 18, 2007 10:52 AM

While you create your characters, you are not the same. It makes perfect sense what would come out of a slutty southern girl (who I love, BTW) and what comes out of the decidely nice, pink socked southern girl would not be the same thing. I'm on the bandwagon with this one- sometimes it's, "Yikes! that hurt!!!!" and sometimes it's -er- more colorful:)

Posted by: Chris at July 18, 2007 10:59 AM

I don't think that words can be inherently bad, but I do think that they have power. The "N" word, for example, is also a combination of letters like any other word, but it has been used as a weapon of hatred throughout history and so has weight and a power to hurt that other words do not. It is one of the few words that'll make me flinch when someone uses it.

Some people are really offended by swearing. Personally, I enjoy it.There, I said it. I am a fan of cussing. In the right situation. With my sisters and with my girlfriends I swear with abandon, but I agree that you need to always consider the people around you.

I love that part of Inside the Actor's Studio when James Lipton asks "What is your favorite curse word?" The women are always SOOO much more profane than the men. I remember when Meryl Streep was on she said "Sometimes I say 'Oh GOD' and I'm not even *thinking* about God!" Everyone has a different comfort level, and basic good manners (sigh... remember good manners?) dictates that you reign yourself in around people who'll be offended. But, ummm, not in a BOOK! I don't ever remember being offended by language in a book. Even if it is something I would never say in a million years. Whatever the language is, I would think that the fact that it is in a book would...I don't know, be enough of a barrier to prevent me from being offended. Plus, I picked up the book. No one made me! Does that make sense?

I'd love to be saying something different than what most commenters have weighed in with thus far, but I think situation and intent is everything.

Posted by: Laura at July 18, 2007 11:06 AM

I take a very pragmatic approach. Unless you're writing a dictionary, you're likely not writing words for words' sake. You're trying to get some meaning across, and the word choice might help or hinder that. Certain words have stigmas attached, and using those words casually may be so distracting as to take the listener out of the conversation. For example, if I were criticising the President by calling him a lot of foul names, it might be harder to get listeners to agree with me even if they also dislike the President, just because they're put off by my linguistic choices. This sounds like the issue that's occurring with your e-mail correspondant, that for that particular reader, the word choice was pulling her out of the story instead of immersing her more fully into it.

At least, that's my lofty, erudite view for when I'm thinking logically and considering each utterance with the grace and aplomb of Jackie O. In practice, I'm much more human.

Posted by: Marleigh at July 18, 2007 11:25 AM

Hey. Queen of the potty mouth here. I admit it. Any bad words my kids learned, they most likely learned from me. (Not that I'm proud of that.) Now, from me, I don't think a swear word has much power, but when my mother swore when we were kids--watch out, she was MAD. Because she hardly ever did. Right there, that tells you a lot about each of us, and how can an author NOT use such a potent characterization device? Some people swear. Others do not. And you learn a lot about a person by what they do or do not do in certain situations.

Now, on my blog, I try not to swear, because all sorts of people are stopping by. I don't want to offend. I don't type it out straight (okay, only once that I can remember, and in context of relating a conversation), and only rarely do I even suggest a particular word, although I have. I sort of think of it as emailing someone I don't know well. Once I know a person and know whether they'll be offended, I might include some of my more, ah, colorful word choices. But not on my blog.

Now I have to go before this thunderstorm fries my computer. Which would, of course, result in quite a blue streak of profanity floating over the eastern seaboard. :-)

Posted by: amy at July 18, 2007 11:26 AM

Hubs and I have always been big on appropriateness, not just use of language. Our kids can share cups and food and kiss and hug, but it might be inappropriate at school.

My kids have picked up more language from our music choices. Crazy bitch from Outkast, all sorts from System of a Down. I've been using PITA for pain in the ass since my teaching days 7+ years ago and we are aware of language when they are underfoot.

However, my three are close to Maisy's age almost 6.5, 6.5, and 5 and they know appropriateness. Yesterday Isaac was playing Math Blasters and said, "I love Math Blasters. I'm blasting my ass off." My husband cracked up and told him that ass wasn't a word to use anywhere but at home.

We expect our kids will understand things when they are appropriate and when we feel they are ready we explain things to them. There's a lot of mutual respect and trust and I think it's because they've learned that things are a bit more liberal at home than outside. At the same time, the sex question has come up...already, and we've simply said it's inappropriate for them to know at their age. They were so cool with that explanation, hubs and I were a bit gobsmacked.

If three very young children can learn these things at this age, why can't an adult reader? Things have context and are within situations and those factors are very, very relative.

I think the most inappropriate thing in all of this isn't the words or the bathroom scene, but that a reader couldn't decide from the novel's first line and use of tits whether this would be appropriate reading for him/her. It's one reason my novel's first line drops an F bomb.

Posted by: Sabra at July 18, 2007 11:27 AM

I agree, about there being no "bad" words.

Posted by: Heather at July 18, 2007 11:43 AM

Gulp... you don't like songs?!

Posted by: grey at July 18, 2007 11:43 AM

I just wanted to let you now... this post was a very interesting eye opener... It made my wee brain spin full speed..I am one to occasionally use the more colorful words.. I think it is a human thing to call them bad.. there is a time and place for everything... and you have hit the nail on the head... *%#@ Ouch! Nuff said.. I will close with keep up the good work and now I have to get to the book store and purchase your books... I need to see more of your writing...

Posted by: Tina at July 18, 2007 11:49 AM

I believe there are harmful or hateful words that people would likely classify as Bad Words (someone above mention the "N" word) - but I DO NOT believe that even those words should be hidden or banned or whatever you do to bad words because:

A) Who gets to be on the Exile of All Bad Words committee? (This begs many, many more questions so we'll leave it at this one.)

B) If you condemn someone for using a word or try to ban the word, two possible outcomes ensue - you encourage igorance (BAD!!!!) or you encourage "forbidden" behavior (because, hello, what happens when you tell a teenager no, she canNOT do something? She just goes where you can't see it and does it) which creates a Lack of Communation between you and the person using the word. And Lack of Communication is BAD. That's how misunderstandings and wars start.

In conclusion, for the sake of world peace, I don't believe in Bad Words. Fin.

Posted by: Casey at July 18, 2007 12:28 PM

Situational linguistics...to a degree. While cussing doesn't bother me, euphemisms drive me nuts. At a formative stage, I had a ratty neighbor who specialized in What-the-fudge, etc. and constantly flashed boobage and below while settin' on the front stoop or hangin' out the laundry and I still scurry away from twinkly-eyed, prissy-mouthed euphemisers in expectation of a flesh bomb. (Back in the 40s and 50s, the ilk of flasher, particularly female, was considered to be eccentric rather than exhibitionistic.)

There's another purple vacuum cleaner on the market. It's called a Vox, works quite well, and looks rather Jetsonesque. It's an awesome machine which I don't particularly recommend if you happen to have an older carpet because, in addition to coping admirably with hair from 3 cats and feathers/seeds/nutshells from the macaw, it rips long stringy things out of the rugs...thus requiring application of thread snippers at toe level.

Posted by: Nora at July 18, 2007 12:35 PM

I'm definitely a situational linquist. And I do love cussing (or swearing as we northerners call it). I had quite the potty mouth in my teens and early 20's but I definitely knew when to reign it in. NEVER did I swear in front of adults, particularly ones in a position of authority. Now I have the reverse situation... no swearing in front of the children. And as always, it's not acceptable in the workplace.

Teaching the kids the rules is proving a challenge though.

Posted by: heidi at July 18, 2007 12:49 PM

Yes, I agree with you, Joshilyn. One thing I would say is that the swearing didn't stand out from your books - I just remember the stories and characters. If all I'd come away with was that it was full of "bad words" that might be another story...

Posted by: diane at July 18, 2007 12:52 PM

I have to say something other people reminded me of-

Nothing rips me out of a story faster than a character saying something they would never say. For instance, in the tv versions of the movie Casino where they clean up all the "bad" language up, and I want to die laughing every time Joe Pesci says "What the freak." Mob guys, I'm pretty sure, don't worry about their language.

I think there are other times that people go to the other extreme and the described character would never cuss as much as they do in the story, its just for shock value. I don't really care for that.

Also, I wanted to say its great the way you discussed with Sam that he could say it to himself but not in front of you or others. I feel like it shows him its not a sin to say crap, but that you have to be respectful. And because its set up in a way that he feels he has a choice in saying it, he's less likely to do it in inappropriate ways.

Posted by: megan at July 18, 2007 1:39 PM

We just had that same 'what the...' discussion with my 6 year old. He spent his year in kindergarten, learning new phrases, and asking me what he was allowed to say. I treat words much like you do. There is a time, and a place - use appropriate words.

I knew some folks that didn't watch the Sopranos because of the language. (But the violence was A-ok, honky dory?) But I don't imagine a mob boss with little education uses words like 'poo' with his fellow good fellas. It doesn't ring true. He has to be foul.

Anyway, it is too bad that cussing, through a character, is such a stressor to person(s).

Posted by: Lisa Milton at July 18, 2007 2:05 PM

My six year old son (homeschooled) recently came home from camp and asked why the other kids had problems with inappropriate language while we (he and his sister) do not. After some discussion, we decided it was because most kids are restricted from using certain language while my son is, technically, allowed to speak however he pleases, but particularly colorful words are usually followed up by an assesment of the appropriateness of the use. Words are just words, but the grandparents, for instance, are more easily offended by some words than others. I don't believe in bars of soap and none of my kids cuss regularly, but always appropriately, IMO. That said, I'm always surprised when I hear about language in your books because I've devoured them all and I never seem to notice that my ears are burning. So apparently, you use all your "bad" words appropriately. As I would tell my son, it seems a perfectly acceptable occasion to use that word. I'll let you know if I catch any inappropriate use in the next one ;-)

Posted by: Tracy at July 18, 2007 2:23 PM

Hate to be boring little Miss MeToo here, but I agree with pretty much everything you said in this post, Joss, except that for me the one and only appropriate word in the "hitting the thumb with a hammer while alone" situation would start with an F and end with an Uck. Um....was I supposed to disguise that more? :-)

But I wouldn't say that in front of a child, or my mother (if she was still around), or someone I didn't know well. Hhhmmm...actually I might say it in front of someone I didn't know well if I got hit with a hammer. But I wouldn't say it in front of someone I didn't know well in more everyday sort of circumstances. I would - and do - say it in front of my husband with some regularity.

And speaking of sex, I don't get Person's stance on the sex scene being too graphic. Person must not read the same books I do if he/she thinks that was graphic. I thought it was quite discreet.

But then I don't seem to get a lot of the things some people have objected to about your novels. I've NEVER - right from the first - understood the grief some readers have given you over the language in "gods...". Arlene talked like ARLENE, ferpetessake. It was a huge part of the character. If she didn't talk like Arlene, she wouldn't BE Arlene. She'd have been Suzie, or Cynthia, or Penelope....someone who clearly would not have lived her life the way she did, or found herself in the situation she did, or made that deal with God. Arlene just is not someone who would say "oh my, how unfortunate" in a southern belle sort of way when something is wrong. I don't get why anyone else wouldn't GET that.

Back to language in general, the only time certain words offend me is if they're used as weapons to hurt people, but even then it's not the fault of the word - the word itself isn't bad, just how it's used. And most of the words I'm thinking of in those cases aren't even the ones that people think of as cussing. They're words many people would find perfectly acceptable to use anywhere or anytime - words like stupid, fat, lazy, no-good, useless. Those can be offensive. The F-word? I kinda like it. :-)

My opinion, FWIW.

PS to Aimee...Elf profanity? Bwahahahaaaaaa!!

Posted by: DebR at July 18, 2007 2:28 PM

Words rock. Poor communication sucks.

My parents, incidentally, consider "sucks" to be a cuss word. So, I try not to say it in front of them, but it slips out occasionally. I, however, think "sucks" is a perfectly good word and while a bit slangy, not necessarily a not-nice word.

Posted by: Edgy Mama at July 18, 2007 3:06 PM

I didn't find the married sex in Between that offensive seeing as how that and more had taken place in my very own married bathroom. Having been married for 14 years, I'm all for married sex.

I teach middle school and have heard. it. all. as far as language goes. I draw a limit in my classroom. . .I don't want to hear, "God!!! That sucks!!!! Crap!!!!!" even if they are technically "allowed" to say it, because that's just not nice. On the other hand, my husband and I use words with each other that we NEVER use in public (see bathroom reference above) because they fit at the moment.

I am not a cusser. . .nor do I care to be around someone who is. . .but your books are stories. And when I read, "Hello, Alabama. You big, green whore," well I almost injured myself laughing, but I don't recall Arlene waltzing into the middle of the Baptist church social OR Burr's momma's kitchen and cutting loose with a blue streak of profanity. Her aunt raised her better than that.

Posted by: Roxanne at July 18, 2007 3:17 PM

Here’s my personal take...

Spoken Language
The ability to make language choices is indicative of cranial capacity. Someone who can’t adjust their choice of phraseology to various environments is a few kernels short of a Pop Secret bag.

It’s not a matter of education. Those less erudite don’t need to know what erudite means to refrain from coarse language when it’s not appropriate. Understanding and adapting to your environment is a life skill that is vital, though very often difficult to teach to those rebellious hooligans we call children. If you make a choice to use harsh language in an inappropriate situation, you should 1) recognize that you just made a choice, and 2) have some level of understanding of what the impact of that choice will be.

Written
As long as the language is appropriate to how that character would speak in the situation they are in, it’s all good.

Posted by: Mr. Husband at July 18, 2007 3:17 PM

I totally disagree and think that you should never, ever, EVER use the potty-mouthiness! Shame on you all! As we speak I'm tch-tch-tching and wagging my finger in judgy-judgerment!

...ok, kidding. I also didn't want to climb aboard what seems to be a very full bandwagon (even though everyone on it is so pretty and also brilliant!) but I gotta agree. In fact it reminds me of the Humanities class I took at a Community College 4-5 years ago.

The teacher posed the question "what bad words should we abolish?" to the room of mostly youthful, wide-eyed kids. And me. And I was really surprised by how many of them took the position "there are bad words that we should totally ban from use." It made me look like such a genius when I raised my hand and simply said "words are tools, nothing more. You could kill someone with a hammer, but we're not going to outlaw hammers, right? What matters is how you use them." I think that's still the case here. And I just realized that I'm gonna blog on this question myself, so I'll stop flappin' my fingers and post already. (dang!)

Posted by: Femtastic at July 18, 2007 3:25 PM

DebR,

Sure, elf profanity. Jerk-in-the-box! ;)

Posted by: Aimee at July 18, 2007 5:28 PM

Hey Grey!

Yeah, Josh is dead inside, of her own admission -- she may not have mentioned it lately, but she cracks me up every time she says it. Because I mean, come on! You love shoes! You can't be dead inside ;-)

And just to keep it on topic: appropriate language usage is situational and there are no "bad" words. Just unpleasant people and intentions.

For example: I might blog on MySpace about being so h*&%y that I honk when I walk, but I'm sure not going to say it in that way to my mother!

Posted by: Beth at July 18, 2007 5:50 PM

Remember when you were on "Cover to Cover" for Between and the lady called in and said half of the Book Club liked it and half did not? Well, it sounds like the same person to me. Would explain why she read the next book.. <=Maybe.?

Don't let that person waste any more of your time and energy. We all love you and your books. We are the pretty ones!!
I think we all should send Joss one(1) Pretty white fluffy towel.!?! Christmas list is not for towels.......

Posted by: jean at July 18, 2007 6:29 PM

BRAVO for the white towel suggestion. . .not for Christmas. . .definitely.

Posted by: Roxanne at July 18, 2007 7:11 PM

I agree with you completely. I am an adult, when I read the back of the book to see if I'm interested in reading it, I make a decision to accept what is in the book by buying it, or I don't buy it.
I find cussing offensive "in person". I find it not needed. But I am not offended by reading it.(maybe that's odd) If by chance there is a little more cussing than I like, I have found myself kinda skimming thru those parts. But I certainly don't blame the author. I'm the one that chose to read it.and who am I to call them to task for writing their book, & my innocent self coming along and reading it. It's like a T.V in that you can turn the channel or in this case if the book is that bad, lay it down and don't buy their books again if you don't like their writing style.
Personally, (of course) I bright pink fluffy heart U and your books and do not find them offensive in the least!!!

Posted by: Desi at July 18, 2007 7:23 PM

I am a very poor person to ask an opinion of on this subject, because I just love to cuss FAR too much to be objective. I love to do it in real life, and in writing, and I love other people who cuss, especially women.

Many of my mother's friends who read my book were shocked and horrified by the cussing, according to Mom. My writing group suggested I retitle my book "Field of Bad-Eff-Word-ing Darkness," just so people would know what to expect.

Anyway, I'm totally with you on cussing NOT being an indication of a poor vocabulary. I mean, they are words, right? Ergo just by using them, you have a bigger vocabulary. Like, "hey, you #$%&$@#%^ prestidigitor, where do you think you're going with my T%(U@G@$% rabbit-filled tophat?" That's two whole more words right there.

Posted by: Cornelia Read at July 18, 2007 7:42 PM

So, I generally don't read mysteries, but Cornelia? I'm reading your book next. You just made me feel MUCH better about my potty mouth.

Posted by: amy at July 18, 2007 9:18 PM

I pretty much agree with you as well (you're probably going to get flak for saying "Situational Linguist" because someone is going to read it quickly and think you said something naughty LOL).

However, I think I cuss more than a Sunday School teacher and less than Kathy Griffin. And in front of my kids, who know mom is blowing off steam and (usually) don't repeat it.

I won't cuss in front of my Grandma (but I do on my blog--which she reads, so I keep it PG-ish). And I do think there are some words that shouldn't be said too (N word).

I just don't get someone criticizing you for your books. It's like when I see a review on Netflix for a PG-13 or R movie and they complain about things, it's like, what did you expect?

Speaking of your books, is it March YET??? no? DAMN.

Posted by: Angel at July 18, 2007 9:46 PM

I can't quite explain it but I feel kind of set free by this discussion. I struggle with my potty mouth and yet when I find myself using that perfect word for that perfect moment, it feels so right, and then I feel guilty, blah, blah, blah . . . But Joshilyn (and many of you) have broken my chains!!!! However, words are very visual to me and some I just don't say because the image makes me feel sickish. 'Suck' is one of them because of a crude joke I heard as a child. And also 'crap' because I have cleaned up too many steaming piles of it when we had a Lab living in the house. And I have a friend who frequently says "they reamed me another asshole" - ewwwwww! So, there you go. When reading books, as long as the words are true to character and moment, I don't even notice them.

Posted by: Dana at July 18, 2007 10:05 PM

Wow, I didn't think I'd ever see some one use Pol Pot and Ghandi in the same sentence. If a year ago someone would have told me I would, I'd disagree unless they told me Joss would do so. Now it all makes sense.


I cuss terribly so. But I am situational in my cussing. I know where I can and where it won't be offensive...most of the time. And when I hurt myself...bad...because it happens a lot, I don't cuss. I will scream Fudge, Fudge nuts, or son of a gun. Who knows it's just the quirkiness that is me.

Posted by: Cele at July 19, 2007 1:39 AM

My lines are directly in line with your lines.

Posted by: Heather Cook at July 19, 2007 1:47 AM

Situational linguistics, yes!

The use of the word "faggot" to mean a bundle of sticks in medieval times? Cool.

The use of the word "faggot" in a book to show just how unpleasant a character is? Cool too.

Having someone hiss "faggot" at me in Wal-Mart? Not so cool.

Situational.

By the way (and not to brag too terribly loudly, but it's the end of the posts so maybe no one will read this), if your Person takes issue with the sex scene in Between, I can think of two scenes in TGWSS that are going to make her really blush!

Posted by: Fran at July 19, 2007 2:48 AM

I love your example Fran, it's perfect! I have a few words I try hard to avoid, such as c--t, or racial slurs - Laura is right that while words themselves aren't bad, some have acquired a lot of power to hurt. But plenty of real people do say them, therefore there should be characters in books who say them.

How naughty a word is may also depend on how you were raised - as someone pointed out, some folks don't even like "gosh". And I've heard that somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line, "butt" is a dirty word!?

Posted by: Brigitte at July 19, 2007 8:00 AM

I was thinking about this some more last night (yes, I was!) and wanted to mention one more thing, even though this discussion is getting long, and that's that words often don't mean the same thing - and therefore don't have the same impact - in different places.

One of my very best friends is from New Zealand and we have a good ol' time comparing notes on what words some people find shocking here and there, and believe me, they are NOT the same.

My friend blushes and squirms, for instance, if I use the workd "panties" to describe women's underwear, while I, OTOH, grew up learning that as the "nice" word for that particular garment. But to her it's super-racy. And you should've seen her when she and I were standing near the fire one time and my husband asked if we were warming up our fannies. He thought he was being polite by not saying "butts" or "ass." Little did he know that word has a VERY different meaning in NZ. :-)

From the other direction, I was a little shocked when yet another friend in NZ told me she was going to mail me a "packet of rubbers" she thought I'd like. They were ERASERS that looked like flip-flops. :-D

Posted by: DebR at July 19, 2007 9:16 AM

I think you need to write true to the character. That said, after the readings on my first book involved me continually changing certain things like D-words to "darn" in midstream while reading in front of audiences which often included my parents, I resolved to write all my books with darn type language.

This is not working for me. It makes my characters sound like idiots. I don't know why this is, but it does.

Yes, Brigitte, "butt" can be slightly off-color in the South. People would tend to say "tush" or "tail" something similar, at least people I know. Joshilyn, in full argument with her own butt might have a different idea? :) I do think that's changing under other influences, though. I tend to use it a lot more than I would have fifteen years ago, without feeling I'm saying something a teensy little bit bad.

Posted by: Laura Florand at July 19, 2007 10:32 AM

In agreement with most of the other writers posting here-- but have to say, I have changed some language when needing to read aloud in front of an audience, so what is right? If the character is a slimeball using slimeball language, but I personlly wouldn't-- do I suddenly change who he is- or make an aside to that fact? I think an artist has to be true to the WHOLE story-- and not worry about who it offends. Not everyone is going to like everyone else or everyone else's books. That why the world is full of people and Amazon is full of books. ( remember the old TV slogan- if it offends you, just change the channel)
I'm glad you're blogging about this- as it is something I am currently struggling with: To be true to myself and stop caring what others think.
My DH says, it is THEIR problem. Don't make it yours.
He has a point.
Also, as a multiple kid- animal household I have to tell you- I bought the top of the line Dyson and returned it a day later, replacing it with the Bissell Healthy Home vac http://www.amazon.com/Bissell-5770-Healthy-Bagless-Upright/dp/B000HS28AK) which totally kicked the British guy's butt -first time I brought back something because it didn't suck enough.

Posted by: linda at July 19, 2007 12:25 PM

Don't ever ask an Australian to do something "lickety-split" either! COMPLETELY different meaning!

Posted by: Leandra at July 19, 2007 1:58 PM

I hope I am allowed to do this but this discussion reminded me so much of this. I promise, it isn't bad:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEJJUGJZxpU

There are only a few words that I really do wish people would forget forever one being the "c" words and one being the "n" word but otherwise, I can appreciate a well timed swearword. And actually, I should be embarrassed by how much I swear myself.

I do kind of get offended when people (especially men) use clorful language before they get to know me. Once I know you, I'll make you blush but how do you know that about me at first meeting? And how do I know you aren't a boor if you cuss a blue streak? But that lends to your appropriate audience point I guess.

I agree that cussing is not necessarily the sign of a poor vocabulary but I do really enjoy when someone can get their point across creatively without it (I'm thinking Seinfeld - his language was pretty clean but still hilarious, you know?).

I've really enjoyed reading all these comments!

Posted by: Em at July 19, 2007 2:10 PM

Hmmm. Looks like you hit on a hot topic. All I can say is, I can't remember the hot bathroom sex in gods. I must go re-read....

Posted by: Jill at July 19, 2007 10:29 PM

I'm back. This is a little off-topic, and I'm sure the discussion is over, but I can't stop thinking of this SNL skit:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MBh9ZjOsKv8

Posted by: Brigitte at July 20, 2007 7:34 AM