The late comedian George Carlin said a lot of wise things, but the one I liked best was "There are no bad words--only bad thoughts." At the Write on the River conference this year, where I taught a workshop for young writers and another for adults, a very promising writer told me that his writers' group censors his work. They object to curse words like "damn".
It's all but pointless, in a rural area like Wenatchee, Washington, to suggest that he find a new group! There isn't a high number of writers of any genre, and for this writer, finding someone interested in precisely the sort of thing he's working on is difficult.I suggested--tongue in cheek--that Mother Louise said to knock it off, but I doubt it will help.
Words do have power, but they're only words. They're a collection of letters, grouped to indicate a certain sound, and it's only our cultural context that gives that sound impact. I admit there are a couple of words I can't bring myself to say or to write, but I'm a little bit embarrassed even about that small amount of restraint. I don't love writing "goddammit"--and I never say it--but in a character's mouth, sometimes that is precisely the right expression. There was a time when the word "crap" was unacceptable, and now it's used all the time in movies and television programs. In fact, in a day when the F word (okay, I just didn't think I should write it out here--I certainly use it in my books) is everywhere, even in song titles, finding a truly offensive swear word is tough.
In fact, the F word is an old, old word, going back to Middle English. Lots of other words have had different connotations in different ages as well. "Gay" is a good example. It's a lovely word, often used as a proper name, and only in the last fifty years or so has it come to mean something quite different from its original definition.
I'd like to say this to that writer's group in Wenatchee, Washington: If you're a church lady and you object to "damn", I'm good with that. If you're a writer--or pretending to be a writer--I think you should open your mind. It's just a word. And maybe it's the perfect word for the situation. You may not want to use it yourself, but don't inhibit your colleague.