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swear words in MG NF about language

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The topic of swear words in MG fiction is being discussed over on the MG thread, but my question is a little different. I'm working on a MG nonfiction book about the English language. I have a really great example I'd love to use, but it would require me using the word "[word censored]" (am I allowed to say that here?). Do you think it's appropriate in MG? 

I've also been pondering how (or even whether) to tackle a section on taboo language. For example, is it problematic to bring up the fact that we can use the word "snafu" in somewhat formal situations, even though the -f- stands for a swear word? I wouldn't name the swear word, but I'm wondering whether it's worth using this sort of example, which would lead kids to find out what the -f- stands for. (Or a similar example: people who wouldn't use the f-word will sometimes say the letters WTF---inappropriate to discuss in MG?)

What do you think?
#1 - January 17, 2016, 10:04 AM

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Rebecca,  you might want to spell out the censored word with asterisks between the letters so we know which one you're asking about.  Interesting questions!
#2 - January 17, 2016, 10:12 AM
The Leland Sisters series: Courtship and Curses, Bewitching Season, Betraying Season (Holt BYR/Macmillan)
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Ha! I guess I can't say p*i*s*s here! (Thanks, Marissa!) By the way, my editor allowed the word to stay in one of my novels, which was marketed as MG.
#3 - January 17, 2016, 10:18 AM

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Interesting topic. I too enjoy learning about the evolution of language and have spent hours poring over the OED. I didn't learn to swear until after I came to the US (high school) and only the most common words/phrases. When we moved to Europe for my postdoc, my friend gave me two adult books: Schiesse and Merde (since I'd be working in Germany and but living in Belgium) -- and it was filled with all sorts of things I'd never even heard of. Thank goodness I had no occasion to use such language.

As a parent I would not like to find the history of a swear word for a MG child -- the p-word seems mild enough so okay, but not the f-word. Even though my kids are teenagers, we don't tolerate bad language. It's bad enough having to put up with eye-rolls, slamming doors.

Vijaya
#4 - January 17, 2016, 10:36 AM
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From the way kids react to certain words--like explaining to grade six kids that a buttload is 437 litres--I'd hesitate if the target audience is less the grade 6. I.e. upper MG is fine, low probably not and mid leaning away from maybe--if NF has the same subcategories.
#5 - January 17, 2016, 12:32 PM

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...like explaining to grade six kids that a buttload is 437 litres...

Ooh, ooh, explain it to me! Purty please?  :please
#6 - January 17, 2016, 02:45 PM
Learning to Swear in America (Bloomsbury, July 2016)
What Goes Up (Bloomsbury, 2017)
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As a mom, I would have no problem with it. I don't find words that describe bodily functions to be offensive, even though I want my kids to know when it is and is not okay to use those words, since other people do.
#7 - January 17, 2016, 02:59 PM
BUSY-EYED DAY (Beach Lane Books, 2018)
GROUNDHUG DAY (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)
VAMPIRINA AT THE BEACH (Disney-Hyperion, 2017)
among others

dewstamps - when the kids are learning measurements we talk about how inconsistent inches and yards once were, how the official kilogram weight is not quite a kilogram any more, and all the weird measurements we've created. e.g. a B.E.D. for radiation is a Banana Equivalent Dose, A Wheaton for 500,000 twitter followers, the belief that diamonds weights were compared to fake chocolate (a carat is the weight of one carob seed), or the old 'what weighs more a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?' riddle.

Anyway, a buttload was a measurement for wine casks.
#8 - January 17, 2016, 04:07 PM

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..I'm working on a MG nonfiction book about the English language. ... pondering how (or even whether) to tackle a section on taboo language.
Putting examples of swearing and manner of presentation aside, has the underlying motivation for setting naughty words before the eyes of preteen readers been reexamined? And what about the likelihood of getting it (non-self) published, and of real parents buying it?

I would suggest that MG minds are still predominantly in the "grammar" phase of mental development, wherein learning (even unintended learning) of content, good and bad, is the primary operating mode. Most MGers might not even be capable of appreciating a dispassionate discourse on swearing, but instead treat it as a how-to manual, or at most just something to titter over.

Parents and teachers complain constantly that many MGers swear far too much already; being presented a book on swearing could well be taken as license to do so.

In contrast, consider a humorous book that lampoons swearing, showing no actual swear words but depicting the likely and realistic long-term negative consequences of habitual swearing--they do exist! Now that work might gain better traction and be much more likely to get published. I'd ironically name it, Why Swearing S*cks.
#9 - January 18, 2016, 10:17 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

Rab, since it's nonfiction, and the example is fun, I think you should include it and let an editor tell you if you need to find another word or phrase. The p word is pretty mild any more, and I would personally not have a problem with my child reading it. The word always reminds me of one of my favorite, mildly vulgar phrases in French: il pleut comme ma vache pisser. So I'm kind of a fan of the word, anyway. ::-)

Snafu might be a little trickier, given the more serious nature of the word. But kids also love knowing where things come from, and I doubt it would encourage swearing so much as encourage them to tell their parents when they were swearing unawares...
#10 - January 18, 2016, 01:27 PM

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Hmmm, I've been thinking. Is it possible that this could be a sold as a young YA? That market might welcome a taboo language section.
#11 - January 18, 2016, 02:04 PM
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I like the idea of a young YA (tween, though I think they're no longer using that distinction). It reminds me of a story a friend told me. She was on a committee abbreviated FUC, and her son (who was in 2nd grade, at the time) walked by as she was e-mailing another member. He said, "That's not how you spell that word." She said she was torn between horror that he'd already heard it and amusement that he could also spell it...
#12 - January 18, 2016, 02:14 PM
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Thanks for these comments, everybody. It's particularly helpful to get reactions from different perspectives: teachers, parents, writers, language buffs. (Hmm. Buffs. Wonder where that came from---time to go look it up!)

[For anyone who cares, this is fun. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language says of "buff," in the sense of an enthusiast, that it's "From the buff-colored uniform worn by New York volunteer firemen around 1920, originally applied to an enthusiast of fires and firefighting."]
#13 - January 18, 2016, 03:25 PM
« Last Edit: January 18, 2016, 03:29 PM by rab »

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For yet another perspective, my father was a B-17 pilot in WW2. He told his crew no swearing, because he said that it didn't communicate anything during the furious action of air battles.

More at Harry Crosby's, A Wing and a Prayer.
#14 - January 18, 2016, 04:58 PM
« Last Edit: January 18, 2016, 05:03 PM by spence-blakely »

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I just chatted today with a colleague who is a K-5 public school librarian. We were talking about the ALA YMA winners, and she said that one Caldecott Honor winner contained a "mild swear word," so she didn't feel comfortable promoting the book to her students bc of it. (The book is targeted to grades 4-7 I believe.) But I'm sure other educators will have no problem with it.

I think every educator/parent has their own threshold, and they know their students/children, so it is something to consider, but no one answer will fit all instances. Go with your gut, and if an editor says to cut it in order to potentially widen your audience, you can decide then. :)
#15 - January 18, 2016, 06:39 PM
BLACKOUT -- available now
DESERTED -- available now
SISTERS DON'T TELL -- available now
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rab, your book sounds fantastic! Can't wait to read.

Have you read Melvyn Bragg's THE ADVENTURE OF ENGLISH: THE BIOGRAPHY OF A LANGUAGE? (It's adult, and apparently he makes a couple of mistakes, but I still enjoyed it.)

And Dave--thank you! I told this to my class tonight, and they were quite entertained.  :thankyou
#16 - January 18, 2016, 08:51 PM
« Last Edit: January 18, 2016, 08:56 PM by dewsanddamps »
Learning to Swear in America (Bloomsbury, July 2016)
What Goes Up (Bloomsbury, 2017)
Twitter: KatieWritesBks

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Dews, I just used a clip from The Adventure of English in one of my classes today. (There's an 8-part video series associated with Bragg's book---he narrates. I think there are clips from it on YouTube.)
#17 - January 19, 2016, 02:49 PM

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Dews, I just used a clip from The Adventure of English in one of my classes today. (There's an 8-part video series associated with Bragg's book---he narrates. I think there are clips from it on YouTube.)

Oh, I didn't know that! Very cool. Thanks for mentioning this.
#18 - January 19, 2016, 02:55 PM
Learning to Swear in America (Bloomsbury, July 2016)
What Goes Up (Bloomsbury, 2017)
Twitter: KatieWritesBks

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