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foul language for middle grade

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does anyone know a great source for what is appropriate for middle grade as far as foul language?  One kid who read my story didn't like the word butt, yet this didn't bother others.  What about dang, stupid, and words that seem benign?  I've heard ten year olds say the f word when they didn't know an adult was around, but i certainly don't want to include that or similar words.

what is okay to use when a character is extremely frustrated?

#1 - November 13, 2013, 06:11 PM

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I'm not totally sure Diane but any swearing is pretty much forbidden in MG. Not sure. Dang is probably ok. I think I've seen a post on here about it before. Anyone know?  :neck
#2 - November 13, 2013, 09:10 PM
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I was surprised by recent posts about how butt is a bad word but there are other words I forbid my children that are acceptable to others -- there can be no list because standards vary among parents, schools, and editors. Write your story; words are easy to change, and you'll never please everyone.
#3 - November 13, 2013, 09:31 PM
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I agree with Kelly. My current MC says things like 'A-hole'  and 'a line of bull'. Some beta readers think it's inappropriate but these are things I imagine my very savvy MC would say. It will all get left on the editing floor if the publisher doesn't like it. So yeah, just write the story and worry about rewording later.
#4 - November 14, 2013, 05:15 AM
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I agree - there is a broad spectrum of "bad" language and you can't predict what a person's reaction to it will be.  I would definitely steer clear of the f-bombs and their friends.  Kell's advice was best.  Write what feels natural for your character and you can always adjust later.
#5 - November 14, 2013, 08:32 AM
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I had originally used the word hell in The Trouble with Half a Moon and my ed had me cut it. She said the schools wouldn't take to it very well.

Danette
#6 - November 14, 2013, 09:26 AM
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Just to repeat what others have said, the classic four-letter words won't fly. "Butt," on the other hand, is FAR more subjective, and I rather doubt that it would get flagged by most (or even any) editors. The question of what teachers, librarians, and parents might be triggered by is different from what editors might be triggered by, and I honestly believe it's counterproductive to worry about teachers, librarians, and parents might be offended by. There are people out there who are offended by words like "poop" and "heck," after all. "Sucks" (as in "dude, that totally sucks") is a word that some folks react strongly to, but I put it in the first sentence of my book, and my editor didn't bat an eye. Do what's right for the story and character and don't worry about giving offense until you get to the point of working with an editor, who'll provide more concrete input about it.
#7 - November 14, 2013, 09:43 AM

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Good advice from everybody. In my most recent novel, which is listed for ages 10--14, I steered clear of the actual words by saying something like, "Billy swore as easily as he breathed." In my first novel, many years ago, one of the characters says "[poo]," when he's walking up the aisle in the moving school bus, it jerks, and he almost falls. He's reprimanded by the bus driver. I had a little girl ask me why I used "that bad word" in my story. I was on the spot and said that I put in the specific word so that readers would know the boy didn't say something even worse. So, write what's right for your story.
#8 - November 14, 2013, 10:01 AM
Sheila Welch,  author/illustrator. Don't Call Me Marda, Waiting to Forget, Something in the Air, The Shadowed Unicorn, Little Prince Know-It-All

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My MG novel originally included the word (word censored here - synonym for illegitimate son). (It was muttered by a salty, older character, in a fairly light-hearted context.) When ARCs were distributed to early reviewers, several reviewers immediately pinged on that single instance, and included warnings of sorts to parents that the book contained profanity. My editor told me about the feedback and allowed me to choose whether to keep the word or change it before final printing. I chose to remove the word a) because although it fit within the context, it certainly wasn't necessary, and b) I hated the thought that one little word in a long(ish) book could keep it out of some schools or libraries.
#9 - November 14, 2013, 11:51 AM

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Yikes! Sorry, moderators!

Danette
#10 - November 14, 2013, 02:10 PM
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i wish i could leave it up to editors to decide, but i give my manuscripts out to kids for feedback, not editors.  the kids love being a part of the process and since they don't know me, they are honest about the feedback (I think).

i have hired editors to review the ms, but they don't seem upset with any of the words i use.  it's a few of the kids who make comments that butt, crap, dang, and stupid are bad words.   
#11 - November 16, 2013, 05:51 PM

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Okay, I am going out on a limb here! Someone asked for a list and someone else said there is no list of "bad" words. But, apparently one does exist for this forum. I wasn't aware of this, and my post was edited, putting "poo" for the "bad" word that's in my book. As I read the posts before I wrote mine, I stared at "Satan's home" for several seconds before I understood  what it replaced and was totally confused that any author had used such a phrase in a book. Then when I saw my post, I realized what had happened.

I have a couple of remarks about this. First, is this list of no-no words just for messages that pertain to MG books? Is the list provided somewhere? Are there any five-year-olds reading this message board? It seems that we are all adults and can handle words like "hell" and "[poo]." Especially when we are authors discussing the use of such language in books. It would be different if we were calling one another names, I think, but we are having a discussion. Another point, any editing done to our posts should be placed in brackets, not parentheses, so that readers are alerted to the fact that our words have been changed. Thanks for everyone's comments. It is strange when people get worried about a few "bad" words yet have no problem with kids reading HUNGER GAMES.
#12 - November 16, 2013, 06:57 PM
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I always assumed the language restriction on the board was primarily for teachers and librarians, who might want to access this board through restricted Internet connections.

The Hunger Games example is a bit of a straw man -- that's YA, not MG. it's likely that the parent upset by "crap" in  book for their 9-year-old isn't replacing it with The Hunger Games.

Anyway, I think the language concern in MG is about being available in the widest range if libraries -- it's not judgmental. Standards vary -- many books are successful in MG using "forbidden" words, but for many, it's a hurdle that they don't need to attempt. There are hurdles enough.

I reiterate my thought that you write your characters as they should be written at first, then tone down later if necessary. It's important to understand them, and you might need to know as a writer that a character used unprintable words, even if the final draft doesn't 't include them.

(Disclosure: My characters say crap.)
#13 - November 16, 2013, 09:38 PM
« Last Edit: November 16, 2013, 09:47 PM by Kell »
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Stepping in as mod here to answer Sheila's question:

Sheila, the short answer is, Yes, there is a "list" of censored words. One of the big reasons those words are censored is because this board is public AND searchable by school children. Think of us as daytime network television vs. HBO.

I will do a little research to see if an actual "list" exists, and if we have ever posted it anywhere. Although, I'm assuming that would be difficult unless we used codes ourselves, such as "Satan's home."

Also, if your posts EVER need editing for ANY reason, our first course of action would be to contact you, the poster, and request that you do it yourself. There would ALWAYS be contact with the poster, whatever the case. Sometimes we do need to step in and remove a post, temporarily or permanently, depending on board rules, and in a recent case, depending on US Law; but we are always in touch with the poster to explain and rectify the situation as soon as possible.

Thanks for bringing this up; it's a great question!
#14 - November 17, 2013, 05:41 AM
« Last Edit: November 17, 2013, 05:53 AM by Mrs. Jones »
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I think Mrs. Jones's point that the open part of this board is viewable by schools, and wants to stay that way, says everything. Just to do a riff of sorts on that point -- it isn't true that we're all adults here. Even if the participants are, not all viewers are. :)
#15 - November 17, 2013, 06:02 AM
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A couple more points I'd like to add are that first, no one went in and edited the words in the messages above. The message board has a list of censored words that are not allowed on it and the list of words the Moderators are talking about in this thread aren't words unacceptable in MG books, they are unacceptable on this board and it was the Blueboard's auto filter that changed the words in the messages above.

Those of you used to the old SCBWI board will notice this new board is more carefully moderated than the old board was. This board automatically censors swear words because swearing is not allowed on this board - just like no political or religious discussions are allowed, nor is any sort of flaming (bickering with other board participants) allowed. The Blueboard has a well-deserved reputation for being a squeaky-clean, friendly, safe and fun place to post and share information with others and your Moderators and Administrators work very hard to keep it that way for the posting pleasure of all of us.
#16 - November 17, 2013, 06:49 AM
« Last Edit: November 17, 2013, 07:03 AM by Verla Kay »
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I just want to further clarify what Verla said. Discussion is allowed and encouraged. Members are free to disagree with points made by others, we just don't allow personal attacks of any kind. (Not that that was happening here at all, but Verla mentioned no bickering and I just wanted to clarify that that doesn't mean no in depth discussions.)

ETA: Sheila, I have changed all parentheses to brackets, as such: [word censored] Thank you for bringing that to our attention.  ::-)
#17 - November 17, 2013, 10:22 AM
« Last Edit: November 17, 2013, 11:32 AM by Artemesia »
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Yikes! Sorry, moderators!

Danette

Danette, please don't worry! That's what the word filter is there for! I sometimes write a word knowing it will be censored but also knowing that it means people will know what I meant. But I'm cheeky that way. Ass  :poop
#18 - November 17, 2013, 12:15 PM
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I think I have the word "HE double hockey sticks" in my book. But I know for sure I have "what beavers build" in there. I hope they don't ask me to change it/them.
#19 - November 17, 2013, 04:20 PM

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Going back to the original question. Use the language your character would use in the context he or she would use it. My middle grade has the double hockey sticks too. No other word would do - I'll fight the editor to keep it if I have to. However, Mom responds with "You will not use that word in my house, not while I'm alive." It's one of the climactic moments. Mom is dying. The character knows it's unacceptable before he says it. He has to say it, he can't control it. Stuff like that is usually accepted by the editors.

If the word isn't necessary to the character and the story, cut it. If it is there to shock the reader, cut it. If it has no reason for being in the story, cut it.
#20 - November 18, 2013, 08:51 AM
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Nicely said, Debbie. :)
#21 - November 18, 2013, 09:08 AM
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This is an interesting thread. I think the reason foul language in children's books is an issue is because A) kids are impressionable and B) parents/teachers want to protect kids' innocence as long as possible. My husband swearing when he can't put an IKEA shelf together is no big deal to me, but it is very off-putting to hear my friend's 9-yr-old call his mom a [*four-letter-word*]-head. Now chances are, he may have picked up that phrase from the adults/older kids around him, but perhaps he heard it on TV or read it in a book. Hence, books for kids are censored/banned/challenged by parents.

My personal story about being influenced by content in a book: I loved The Baby-Sitter's Club as a kid (3rd-5th grade years). Claudia was my favorite, and she used the phrase "Oh, lordy" all the time. I thought this sounded sooo sophisticated, so I started saying it. My uber-religious grandmother heard me use it once, and she totally flipped. So what happened? I stopped saying "oh lordy" around Grandma, but still used it around my friends. I thought it made me sound like a grown-up 8th grader.

Kids don't see themselves as young and innocent. They want to be accepted in the real world and treated like adults. My point is, if choice words/phrases are suitable for YOUR story, then go for it! Just don't be surprised if you offend your grandmother.
#22 - November 18, 2013, 10:26 AM

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Just don't be surprised if you offend your grandmother.

 :lol4

Except in cases where Grandma has a potty mouth. Like my mother.

I was into Duran Duran back in fifth and sixth grade (okay, minor obsession, maybe) and I read a biography of the band. So I was telling my mom all about them and where they got their name. The villain in the movie Barbarella was named Durand Durand, and he had this machine that did um, something to women best left to their spouses. But I had no idea that the word meant something sexual and blurted it out to my mother all excitedly. She had fun explaining that one to me. So sometimes kids will use words they read in books without knowing their meaning.
#23 - November 18, 2013, 11:29 AM
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Thanks to everyone who has responded to the original question and to my comments. I'm glad that Verla has made it clear that the censored words are not on any list other than the one for this forum. 

I was simply suggesting that  "swearing" is one thing, while discussing the use of swear words is quite another matter. It just struck me as strange to have a word like "hell" automatically turned into "Satan's home" when we were talking about the use of specific words not their replacements.  Having these automatically substituted words in brackets does make it clear, and thanks for making that change.

My comment about Hunger Games could be another whole topic. However, I do believe that a lot of middle-grade kids have read the book and many have seen the movie. ( As a grandparent of a child who resembles the actress who plays Rue, I have not gone to see the film.) To return to the intent of my earlier comment, I do think there are adults who object to swear words in a book who accept violence in books and on the screen. 

I agree with  Debbie's advice, and thanks to Verla and the other moderators for their support of discussion. Hades, yes!

#24 - November 18, 2013, 01:47 PM
Sheila Welch,  author/illustrator. Don't Call Me Marda, Waiting to Forget, Something in the Air, The Shadowed Unicorn, Little Prince Know-It-All

"My comment about Hunger Games could be another whole topic. However, I do believe that a lot of middle-grade kids have read the book and many have seen the movie."

There are many who have. But there are also parents who allow very limited exposure to language/violence/sexuality for MG. Buyers for school and library markets have to consider the views of a variety of parents and whether having your book on the shelf is worth a possible challenge. Several years ago some school libraries boycotted the Newbery "The Higher Power of Lucky" because of a word choice on the first page. So it's probably worth the time to contemplate which words are worth a possible lost sale.
#25 - November 18, 2013, 02:29 PM

Thanks to all who have responded to my question.  The thing is, I'm still perplexed by what offends the KIDS, not the adults and editors.  The kids are the ones where a few were upset with the words butt, stupid, crap.  I'm not talking about the big four letter words that would be censored here.

Can anyone chime in with what their own KIDS (ages 8-10 or so) are comfortable with in stories, specifically with the words butt, crap, stupid, dang.  Not what the adults think.  That would really help when I send these stories out to fifth graders to get feedback on. 

Just as an example, i say a Cody fell on his butt.  He's not calling someone a butt, but a few of the younger kids (eight years old) still didn't like it.  And an eight year old didn't like that a girl said, "Oh, crap!" when the bad guy came after her.  What do your own kids think of this? 

thanks for the feedback!
#26 - November 21, 2013, 08:45 PM

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I think it's really going to vary. I know that in some schools there's been a real push not to use the word "stupid," to the point that some little kids (kindergarten) actually think it's a swear word. At least, I've heard them refer to it as the s-word. Ditto "shut up." That might be one reason that some of these words are turning up offensive to the kids. Other words depend on what they hear at home, and vary. I'm not a fan of the word "butt" coming out of my kids' mouths--not swearing, but it just sounds crass. For other families, it's a perfectly normal word that is not swearing and is descriptive of the er, body part. ;) But uh..."crap" has been heard and said by all around my house. My kids would have no problem with either one in a book, though.

I think it's going to vary a LOT from kid to kid.
#27 - November 22, 2013, 05:01 AM

It really depends on what they've been taught at home. Some four-year-olds swear like sailors and use slang like rap stars, while others consider "stupid" or "poop" the naughtiest word they know.
#28 - November 22, 2013, 05:06 AM

Agree--the kids seem to react the way their parents have drilled into them.  If mom gasps when someone says "butt" or, shocked, reports the offending "butt" book to the librarian, the child will have a similar reaction, even on his or her own, until he/she hits an age where she's been exposed to the words enough times to not be so surprised.  Same with the word "stupid" "crap" etc.

If the kid has a parent who giggles over the word "butt" or books that feature the word "butt"--or a PB series like The Stupids--then he/she isn't going to think twice about giggling, too, and probably won't blink at "crap."

Then there's a huge range of kids/parents in between the "butt is terrible!" and "butt is funny!" folks.

We heavily influence our young kids' tolerance levels, senses of right/wrong, and senses of humor, no?  I raised my kids on Muppet Show-type humor and it really stuck.  Warp 'em to your own taste while they're young, I say. :yup
#29 - November 22, 2013, 05:15 AM

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If a kid learns bad words from a book, hey, at least they are learning words from books! :) But most commonly, they learn them from their parents and other kids.

You can READ, be aware, and even be offended by many words without being damaged by them, whether an adult or child. We all know lots and lots of curses, some of them really vile and offensive, right? That doesn't mean we use them all day long.

Kids are the same -- they may not use the word "crap" or "butt," but they know the words "crap" and "butt," and if a character uses them -- or actual curses  -- it can tell them about the character and the situation. Thus there is a place for them in middle grade, in my opinion.



#30 - November 22, 2013, 05:33 AM
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