Writer’s Corner: What the F*$%? Is Cursing OK?

Keith Ecker

By Keith Ecker

At Essay Fiesta, we have a set of guidelines that we provide all of our readers. One of the most contentious guidelines is our suggested limited cursing policy. It’s also one of our most misunderstood policies. Allow me to explain.

First, we abide by the rules of our generous partner, the Book Cellar, which has graciously lent us their space for use to host our little show. And because the Book Cellar is a family-friendly retail environment, it is their request that readers be mindful of their language. This does NOT mean no cursing. It means be smart with your cursing. And honestly, I think this is great advice for any writer.

Fuck! Do I love cursing! It can be an extraordinarily effective device in your writing. At times, no other word will cut it like the four-letter kind. There’s just a certain kind of weight that the word “shit” provides over the word “crap.” And although “butt” certainly makes me titter, it’s definitely the preschool version of the word “ass.”

But as with all devices, it derives its power from its clever and limited usage. Sprinkling F-bombs too liberally throughout your work is just the writer being either lazy or sensational. The English language provides us with a rich vocabulary of vulgarity. Tap into it. And besides, the more you try to shock us with your use of colorful language, the more you will see diminished returns. After a while, the word “fuck” will carry just as much weight as the words “house cat.”

So how much is too much? And what is purely sensational and what is an appropriate usage? Here’s some guidelines:

  • Read your piece aloud. Do you find yourself talking like a drunken sailor? Unless you’re a drunken sailor, consider finding some more clever ways to convey your point.
  • Are you using cursing as an exclamation, or is actually interwoven into the narrative? If your cursing is constantly just floating in the air all by its lonesome, then you’re probably doing it more for shock value. Try to imbue the curse words with purpose by actually integrating them into plot or characterization.
  • Are you using the same curse words over and over again? That’s just laziness. Besides you can find ways of saying the most disgusting and vulgar things without cursing at all. For example, you could say that the dog took a shit. Or you could say that the dog unleashed a gushing chocolate waterfall. See how poetic, descriptive and disgusting the latter is?
  • Is cursing really true to your voice? A big part of essay writing is knowing and discovering elements of yourself. Is your true self someone that curses a lot? Or are you using it as a crutch? The more you know your voice, the more you will know when your use of colorful language is genuine.

We here at Essay Fiesta are completely against censorship. That said, we want writers to capture their truth and to convey it as honestly as possible. And when cursing is overused, when it is relied upon to shield a writer from the embarrassment of personal revelations, it is part of a lie. And that is when cursing crosses the line into vulgarity. Be true to yourself, and there’s no fucking way you can do any wrong.

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