Last week’s post on cursing inspired a complimentary piece by my brother-in-law and sometime guest poster, Larry O’Donnell. Retired from 32 years in law enforcement (including Customs and the Secret Service), Larry has joined the ranks of us writers and has this to say about swear words:
In my two WIPs all of my characters use words not for use on prime time network TV. I write a lot of dialog and it just would go flat or be unfreakingbelieveable. Let’s face it, expletives are part of the language and can really be useful to emphasize a point. In real life they come fast and furious when emotion is high.
My late mother once informed me that my first recognizable word was “sh***”. She pled guilty to having used the word around me when no one else was around, presuming I would not hear or repeat it. It is a useful word and, like its companion f***, is one of the more versatile words known in English. It is or has forms that are a noun, a verb, adjective, expletive, and adverb. George Carlin did a routine on it.
I was always amused when Snidely Whiplash would say “Curses” or “Curses, foiled again.” Those of you who remember Dudley, Nell, and Snidely never heard profanity on the TV back then.
During a particularly difficult boat chase one night, my crewman was knocked off his feet a couple of times and had the radar unit smack him in the head while trying to make a radio call to our task force Blue Lightning Operations Command Center (BLOCC). His first sentence after they acknowledged the call sign was “F***, F***, we’re in pursuit, F***, F***, it’s bad, real F***ing bad.”
BLOCC’s response was classier- “676, say your position, course, and describe the subject vessel. We got the F***ing bad part.”
All I could say when I watched the suspects’ boat break in two and sink was “Sh**.” As I watched through night vision goggles, I saw three guys go into the water without life jackets. Our vessel had lost both engines to bullets, and we were about three hundred yards away, dead in the water. When BLOCC asked for an update on the status, my crewman looked at me and said “Well?” I said they were F***ed. He passed that news on verbatim.
I recall saying “Sh**, that was close.” on many occasions and more than a few times, “Sh**, that was F***ing close.”.
Law enforcement is rife with profanity, probably more than needed. What they don’t show on Law and Order is that lawyers curse more than cops. Thirty-two years in military and law enforcement and I have to say lawyers are the most profane group of folks I’ve ever observed.
Since both my WIPs are law enforcement oriented tales, there is profanity. If I was writing about a researcher in the Vatican, I would probably avoid cursing, except for a bit under the character’s breath.
All the above having been said, it will likely be an editor who will ultimately decide what sh** needs to come out and if the profanity is inf***ingappropriate or f***ing right on target.
That’s about all I f***ing have to say except that I have always thought it is likely that my last word is going to be “sh**” too.
hahahaha My sister, who spent the last 8 years in the Army, always used to fill me in on the more creative uses of cursing she’d heard (“you’d better f***ing unf*** yourself” is probably my favorite). We agree that sometimes, a curse is the most succinct, elegant way of describing an emotion or situation. Sometimes it crosses into inarticulate, but at other times, it’s exactly what’s called for.
LOL! Is it awful of me to admit that cursing amuses me no end? Terribly mature of me, I know.
But I do think Larry is right–for certain books, it adds authenticity. Because, yanno, people curse in real life. 🙂
I couldn’t agree with you more. In my second novel, my MC curses … what teen doesn’t? As you said, it is part of our vernacular and culture…
Did you ever watch “The Wire”? There is a scene in the first season where two of the main cop characters (I forget their names) are mapping out the path of a bullet in an apartment, and all they say for about 10 minutes is “F***”. It is amazing what they get across with that word. And hysterical with the facial expressions. We were laughing our butts off.
And yet, not everyone uses them. Nor do they use them in every situation. My day job includes working with a city council. I don’t care how hot the discussion gets, it would not be an appropriate venue to be dropping the F-bomb. The when potty language becomes filler words, which it is for some of my younger children, they lose some control because it can spill out with negative affects. It’s true, that adage, that discretion is the better part of valor.
You expect a certain amount of the in-your-face, desire to shock from adolescents. Personally, I expect more from adults.
But then again, if the words have become filler words like “like”, people say them without even thinking about it and often don’t realize they have.
Thank you Larry for making me laugh my effing butt off 🙂
And I know that it’s been said that swears are for people without much imagination but sometimes they are the right words for the occasion and I expect that there are a lot of those times in the law enforcement field.
I myself have a “potty mouth” and while I keep all those naughty words to myself at work I like to let them out upon occasion, in honor of my Dad, a Navy man, who taught me some of the best – and most imaginative – swear words I know.
And I agree with Larry about the last word although I think mine will probably the eff word.
My dad must either be a different kind of lawyer, keeps it (reletively) at a moderate level around us, or lost his “edge” since joining the banking business. :p
Depending on the person, some teenagers can be profane, to the point some teachers don’t bother, as long as they’re keeping it quiet. YA tend to be inconsistant on that manner, though.
hi mr larry! yikes! my ears and eyes are burning. ha ha. but i gotta tell you im laughing cause you could for sure tell cool and neat stories even if they got effers in them. i know lots of bad words even ones from other countries but mostly i dont say them and i dont use them in my writing cause i write kids stories. if i wrote for teens or old people like you and miss dianne id use them. but sometimes if i get frustrated out or mad i say sh___!!!(your word. shhhh! dont tell anyone i said that. ha ha. thanks for a fun post.
…hugs from lenny
LOL. Great post!
ROFL at Lenny’s comments.
I expect guys to swear in the novels I read and write. If they don’t, they don’t sound authentic, especially if they’re in law enforcement. Don’t they do a required course on swearing while in the academy? 😀
Oooh lawyers, huh?? I agree that a well timed F*** is the way to go.
Wow, so many ************** in this post, my eyes are rolling back. 😀