Why I (Almost) Never Curse

Are all those expletives really helping your writing?

Why I Don’t Curse

I almost never curse.

I blog nearly every single day, but I’d bet that if you went over the last year’s worth of my writing, you wouldn’t be able to find more than a dozen expletives. There might not be a single one. And it isn’t just my writing that’s clean — I’m the same way when I speak.

Although I used to use plenty of foul language when I was younger, I’ve deliberately moved away from it over the past several years.

My objection to cursing isn’t moral, it’s pragmatic: Using swear words makes me lazier, particularly in my writing.

It’s not as if I can’t curse. Fuck-fuckity fuck fuck. Look at me go.

The trouble is that this language detracts from my writing and speech far more often than it adds anything to them.

I’ve seen several arguments in favor of cursing: it helps your audience relate to you, it keeps readers engaged through shock value, and it captures extreme emotions. These are all goals that I’d rather achieve through compelling content than by throwing around the words that used to make me giggle in middle school.

I’ll admit that there are some authors and bloggers who use curse words well. However, far more use them as a crutch when they can’t figure out the right words to express their ideas clearly.

As a reader, I find it obvious when a writer is only using curse words for their shock value, and it’s a bad look. It distracts from the message of their content, and often comes across as juvenile and inexperienced.

Since I’ve stopped cursing, I’ve seen the quality of my expression improve. As a speaker, it forces me to keep my talks engaging, rather than relying on surprising words to wake my listeners up.

As a writer, avoiding curse words has made my writing more precise and clear. When I want to express a deep reaction to something, I’m forced to fully explain my feelings, which in turn helps my readers follow my thought process.

I don’t think that avoiding curse words has in any way lessened the impact of what I say or write. I’m still able to keep readers engaged and connected, but I do it through shared emotions and experiences rather than a shared vocabulary.

Although I certainly still have plenty of bad habits in my speech and writing, cursing was a good one to drop.

When Should Writers Curse?

Despite all this railing against swearing, I actually do believe that there are certain circumstances in which expletives work well. There are even situations in which they are necessary.

The biggest exception to my no-cursing rule is in fiction. When a character speaks — including the narrator — cursing is absolutely fine, as long as it’s what the character would say. Many people in the real world curse all the time, so it makes sense to have characters that reflect this reality.

The other major exception is when a swear word really is the best word to express a particular idea. Sometimes, cursing isn’t the lazy way out — it’s actually precise, clear writing. Sometimes, a well-placed expletive can replace an entire paragraph of boring exposition. Sometimes, it’s just funny to abruptly end an anti-cursing essay with the word fuck.

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more. Buy me a “coffee” at ko-fi.com/benyaclark.

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