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Appropriate inappropriate langu

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I'm working on a MG adventure story. (Think "Hatchett. ). So what can a 13 year old exclaim when she steps on a snake?  When she is caught in a flash flood?  Are even mild words like Hell acceptable as a exclamatory? 

I would like to make dialogue as realistic as possible within the restraints of good taste and age appropriateness.

Opinions?
#1 - November 02, 2015, 05:02 PM

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I've been told no swears, even mild ones. Can you come up with an exclamation that is indicative of her character? In Better Nate than Ever, his swears are all failed musicals. Alternatively, in Harry Potter, she would occasionally say "Ron swore" without giving the word.
#2 - November 02, 2015, 05:20 PM
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I read MG novels to and with my 5th graders, and several of them contain the occasional "hell" or "damn."  I don't really bat an eye, but sometimes the swear words surprise my students.  You can always just say, "She swore," and leave it up to the reader's imagination.
#3 - November 02, 2015, 07:48 PM
AN EYEBALL IN MY GARDEN, Marshall Cavendish Children's Books
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Maybe something milder--oh crud, crap, holy cats, ick-ick-ick?
#4 - November 02, 2015, 10:11 PM
Learning to Swear in America (Bloomsbury, July 2016)
What Goes Up (Bloomsbury, 2017)
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Thanks everyone. All your thoughts are helpful. I appreciate it.
#5 - November 03, 2015, 04:01 AM

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The key is to use the words only when you really don't have anything else that will do. Then, a mild swear will be fine.
#6 - November 04, 2015, 08:58 PM

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Market considerations: putting in swearing, cruelty and other nasty behavior will lessen one's market and create a negative buzz; word gets around. I doubt many readers seek out or crave such elements, or would refuse to buy a book lacking them. But the converse is assuredly true, namely book bannings, whether ad hoc via parent networks or commentary on 1-star reviews, or (temporarily) by library or school officials, hurt sales and reputations.

That said, Catcher in the Rye is still controversial almost 65 years after its first publication. In that ongoing case, freedom of speech/the press became degraded and meaningless because students were denied the right to not buy/listen to/read the book, and parents their right to control what their children were exposed to. Another creeping victory for the Leviathan State. But I remember quite clearly that we students only wanted to titter over the naughty words, forget about the rest of Salinger's storytelling. Have I read it even once since being forced to in high school? Nope. Is that really what a writer needs? To join the potty-pen club?
#7 - November 09, 2015, 08:35 PM
« Last Edit: November 09, 2015, 08:37 PM by A. S. Templeton »
—————
When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
—C.S. Lewis

You could always make up a nonsensical "swear" word, appropriate for your character.
#8 - November 10, 2015, 03:53 AM
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You could always make up a nonsensical "swear" word, appropriate for your character.
Exactly! An opportunity for humor, and showing ways that unpleasant sentiments and speech can be shunted away.
#9 - November 10, 2015, 07:01 AM
—————
When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
—C.S. Lewis

Market be Da---- .  :lol4 I am a word person, and my goal is to write 'the veriest trash' like Twain.  Or Harper Lee. :)
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hugh-rawson/mark-twains-language-bad-_b_813459.html
#10 - November 10, 2015, 07:04 AM
« Last Edit: November 10, 2015, 07:08 AM by Auntybooks »

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Just had this dilemma a few days ago. I put what I thought were *mild* swear words, but upon re-reading they didn't sit right. I wound up making some up. {a la  Captain Haddock in the Tintin books saying "Blistering Barnacles."}
The thing is, I never use four-letter sorts of words in real life, in any language. Never have. So what would be "natural" didn't come naturally...

But as a matter of principal, I'm with Auntie and Twain up there^.
#11 - November 10, 2015, 07:27 AM
THE VOICE OF THUNDER, WiDo Publishing Aug 2012
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I wound up making some up. {a la  Captain Haddock in the Tintin books saying "Blistering Barnacles."}

How fun to run into something like this!

I'm with our Evil Aunty too.
Vijaya
#12 - November 10, 2015, 09:59 AM
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Piggy-backing on this thread with my own questionable word. I'm working on a revision and I want to use the word "pissy," but wonder if it's too much for mg (the mc is 13).

As in, "Even though she's acting a little pissy."

My editor will likely have an opinion, but I thought I'd ask you guys first to get a broad knee-jerk reaction.

Thoughts?
#13 - November 19, 2015, 07:16 AM
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One American EN definition of "pissy" is "arrogantly argumentative", but another connotation is one of proneness to whininess and complaining-- thus "pissy" has no solid definition. Readers outside the American cultural base are likely to misconstrue its intent.

But the base word, which must be taken into account, is "[word censored]", crude slang for urine or to urinate. If one wouldn't use "[word censored]" then don't use "pissy". Writers who have tried to use "niggardly" have long since lost the battle of rationally explaining its unrelatedness to a now-unutterable word.
#14 - November 19, 2015, 08:08 AM
—————
When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
—C.S. Lewis

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I think words such as eek! and yikes! are effective for MG without approaching swear-word status.
#15 - November 19, 2015, 08:19 AM

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Thank you, A.S. I appreciate it!
#16 - November 19, 2015, 08:57 AM
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CLAYTON STONE, FACING OFF
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Piggy-backing on this thread with my own questionable word. I'm working on a revision and I want to use the word "pissy," but wonder if it's too much for mg (the mc is 13).

As in, "Even though she's acting a little pissy."

My editor will likely have an opinion, but I thought I'd ask you guys first to get a broad knee-jerk reaction.

Thoughts?

I wouldn't think twice about using "pissy" in an MG novel. If I thought "hell" or "damn" was warranted in an MG novel I'd probably use them, but I haven't yet, mostly because I haven't written any characters who I think that kind of language is essential for. My characters tend to lean more on words like "crap," or inarticulate exclamations like "ack!" or the old Peanuts-inspired "aaugh!"
#17 - November 19, 2015, 09:57 AM

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Thanks, Mike!  :flowers2
#18 - November 19, 2015, 10:13 AM
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CLAYTON STONE, FACING OFF
Holiday House, 2016

Pissy doesn't bother me at all for MG. On the contrary, it strikes me as a very MG type word and attitude.

Brief sidenote, thinking about [word censored] and pissy... Growing up, my father used the phrase "pissed off" regularly. So in third grade, when I got really angry about something, I announced I was really pissed off, only to have the whole class say, "ooohhhh..." and the teacher to reprimand me for inappropriate language. I had no idea! Thanks a lot, Dad.
#19 - November 19, 2015, 04:15 PM
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Pissy doesn't bother me at all for MG. On the contrary, it strikes me as a very MG type word and attitude.

Brief sidenote, thinking about [word censored] and pissy... Growing up, my father used the phrase "pissed off" regularly. So in third grade, when I got really angry about something, I announced I was really pissed off, only to have the whole class say, "ooohhhh..." and the teacher to reprimand me for inappropriate language. I had no idea! Thanks a lot, Dad.

When we lived in student housing I heard the 3-to-6 year-old kids from the apartment around the corner using the F-bomb frequently when they played outside.  :aah
#20 - November 20, 2015, 08:24 AM

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You could dodge the issue.

Once while hiking in Arizona, I was startled by a rattlesnake.  I didn't utter a single swear.
Instead, I screamed. :eeksign :eeksign  :eeksign :eeksign
#21 - November 22, 2015, 03:11 PM

I know there are general guidelines, though I'd say don't worry about it at this point.

Granted I've written middle grade as dark as I can get, and then edit it to be less stark later with happier moments. That just tends to be how I work. In future drafts I generally remove the scenes that would lead them to need to curse.

Write the curses to figure out what to trim I guess is what I mean.

To qualify: I don't generally include cursing or even foul language. Mostly because I kind of view it as cheap darkness. Cheap depth, that sort of thing.
#22 - November 25, 2015, 11:15 PM

Interesting discussion. I would say avoid all swearing, and agree with other posters that writers should make something up or just infer. Even if your content is dark, swearing often doesn't hold a useful purpose, I find. I know the children I teach don't like bad language in the titles they read.
#23 - January 08, 2016, 03:28 PM
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I always apply the "granny" though experiment: if you wouldn't tell the reader to memorize the speech in question then repeat it verbatim to their grandmother, then it's not fit to include in a story.

Besides, kidlit is advocatory of anything written or illustrated, good and bad. A writer may need to write nasty stuff (and maybe should get some psychotherapy to find out why), but kids don't need to read it. I can affirm that children generally tend to shy away from age-inappropriate stuff with rough language... unless it be shoved down their throats by weirdos who think they're doing them a favor.
#24 - January 08, 2016, 05:26 PM
—————
When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
—C.S. Lewis

Sage words, AS. As a teacher, I couldn't agree more.
#25 - January 09, 2016, 06:45 AM
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I have seen questions like this floating around, and am often left wondering exactly what people consider swears. Is it just the big five: S, F, H, A, C?

Or with the creative expansion of slang these days, are there more?
(I'm not sure anyone can even reply here without posting offensive words, so this may fall flat!)

I guess, in the end, your agent and/or editor will let you know!
#26 - January 09, 2016, 08:20 AM

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I think what constitutes a swear word is subjective. A priest can talk about Hell fire and damnation without consequence. But some would consider both Hell and damn to be swear words. Stupid is another word that gets flagged in some settings. It isn't a nice name to call each other. Age, religion, gender, and location all come into play. It's about the culture the character is in and the culture of the reader.

So my character says "damn" once and his mother calls him on it. Used once it packs serious emotional punch needed in the scene. Every other use would detract from its power. (The scene is where he learns his mother is dying. The word makes that real. I will fight for it if an editor or agent questions its use.)
#27 - January 10, 2016, 09:25 PM

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I think what constitutes a swear word is subjective. A priest can talk about Hell fire and damnation...
Probably what's meant here is not "subjective" but "contextual".

The evil fairy-queen in Disney's Sleeping Beauty was allowed to verbally invoke the Powers of Hell, but  in Lilo and Stitch, Lilo would never have told Nani to Go to Hell. Actually I doubt Disney Corp. today would have the courage to use the H-word in any of its productions. Nor Pixar, Dreamworks et al.

But ultimately they don't need to strenuously rationalize and defend the use of profanity in their storytelling, because it's already a given that there are other, better ways to do it without risking offense and hurting box office and reputation.
#28 - January 10, 2016, 10:03 PM
—————
When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.
—C.S. Lewis

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Probably what's meant here is not "subjective" but "contextual".


Actually, I think both apply. The examples I use are about context, but they also point to what makes it socially acceptable. What's offensive to one person may seem normal to another. That's subjective.

I recall an editor doing first pages at a conference discussing cursing. She said something like, "If your YA characters never curse, they are unrealistic. If you're middle grade characters do, they are also unrealistic." She was discussing the major curse words. There are levels, and which words are in each level differs for everyone.
#29 - January 11, 2016, 07:29 AM

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If you're middle grade characters do, they are also unrealistic."

Ha! If she thinks middle-schoolers swearing is unrealistic, she doesn't know any middle-schoolers!! I'm a mom of three, and work as a middle school counselor. They swear - a lot! (Still, not appropriate to put in an MG book, sure. Don't want to encourage it!)
#30 - January 11, 2016, 08:53 AM

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