Acceptable Swear Words

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DanielaTorre

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I was kind of reluctant to post a thread about swearing, but I figured we are all mature enough to talk about it without it becoming a big deal.

What are acceptable words that one can get away with in MG writing? (Especially when exclaiming surprise)

This came to mind because I was considering using the word "badass" in dialogue but didn't know if it would fly. Also, one of my characters tend to want to say an expletive when surprised.

Sure, let editor worry bout that, but this thread is more for what kind of swear words you might use in lieu of nasty ones.

Please share. :)
 

Smish

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If it's upper-MG, it's probably okay. Occasionally, you'll see the smaller curse words (damn, shit, ass) in MG.
 

DanielaTorre

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If it's upper-MG, it's probably okay. Occasionally, you'll see the smaller curse words (damn, shit, ass) in MG.

Really? Because I'm even reluctant to have them say "hell".

I've been tempted to say "ass", "damn", "crap", "sod", ", etc. (Alternatives of each other, not all in one manuscript, LMAO)
 

Smish

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Cursing in MG is certainly not common - and generally not necessary - but you will occasionally come across swear words in MG. And those are some of the words I've seen.
 

Laura J

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I had my character 'swear under her breath in Portuguese'. She spent time in Brazil. I didn't use the word, but said that she did it. Not sure if I will leave it in or not. I think I've read, damn, and maybe ass. They say 'bloody hell' quite often in all of the HP books. Not sure how bad of word that is in the UK. Kids swear. Is is risky to have one or two there if it really fits? Would it be a deal breaker or something they would tell you to get rid of?
 

scarecrow

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As the mom of mg readers I'd say not at all below 3rd grade,limited above 4 and never excessively. Our school library crosses out a couple words when need be but will not stock a book with a too many bad words. From the kids in my life I hear a lot of OMG and what the.... with out a final word, come on! Growling and cat noises are often useful too. If your character is a creative type you can make up a phrase that is just used by him.
 

Brickcommajason

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Looking at published MG, there's not much swearing. The closest I can think of is all those "Dam" puns in the scene during one Percy Jackson book while they're all on an actual dam...
 

Laura J

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my teen mc and her friends say "back the truck up!"

I like that.

Is suck still a bad word? Personally, I'm no fan. It still sounds like a bad word. Probably because I got my mouth washed out for saying it. Kids say that word, and I kind of cringe. My 12 yr old son says it every now and then. I also don't like friggin' or even freakin' cuz we know what it is the sub for. I've heard what the frack lately. eh.
 

Ferret

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If it's really, really needed, then a mild swear word might be worth it, but I avoid anything that could become an issue with editors, librarians, parents, etc. Sometimes I just say that the character swore without writing the actual word. (Although I've never had the MC do this; it's always been an adult and/or bad guy.) Once I had a character say "what the..." That worked well because it seemed realistic but was still kid-friendly.
 
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Amarie

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I didn't use any swear words in either of my two MGs. It just didn't occur to me, but I've actually had teachers and librarians thank me for not having them in there. I feel kind of guilty when they do thank me, as if it was a big effort for me.
 

Polenth

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They say 'bloody hell' quite often in all of the HP books. Not sure how bad of word that is in the UK.

Bloody is very mild in the UK, but you still don't really see it until the upper end of middle grade.

Kids swear. Is is risky to have one or two there if it really fits? Would it be a deal breaker or something they would tell you to get rid of?

The big issue with middle grade is the target audience have their reading restricted. It's not about whether kids swear, but whether parents want their kids to read books with swearing. The majority of parents don't. So if you can have the character scream when dropping the hammer on their foot, instead of swearing, go for the scream.
 

DanielaTorre

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Figured it was frowned upon for the most part. I've avoided it for the because it's unnecessary. However, I have a really plucky character who's about 12 years old. He's very sharp and enthusiastic, and I feel like he'd actually use some of these words like "damn" and "sod".

I have him say "Cripe!" instead of "Holy Shit" or "Holy Cow". I have no swear words at all in my ms, but this topic intrigues me.

How bad is "sod" and "damn" really? I feel like I've been really desensitized so I can't really tell.
 

geagar

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While writing my Middle Ages fantasy I occasionally need some insults so I found a website that had all of Shakespeare’s insults in it. I will read through them when deciding on middle ages profanity which can be a lot of fun. I don’t use his insults; they just get me in the mood for making mine own up.

How does this apply to modern stories, I think creative modern cuss words can be just as much fun. Boot Licker, Nose Picker, Thumb Sucker, Bed Wetter, Sister Kisser. . .


Here is an excerpt from my Angelica story:

“Dearest donkey could you sing us some songs to help the journey go by faster.”
Smugget began singing, “You vile leach, He-Haw, you pernicious rodent, He-Haw, you harpy from the depths of He-Haw . . .”
I hope this helps.
 

Laura J

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My son watches Zeke and Luther. They have some pretty entertaining insults: bus waxer, pit sniffer, nozzle jockey, nose breather. They say 'ah crab cakes' instead of crap.
 

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Related, but not helpful piece of information...

Saw a fourth grader wearing a T-shirt that said WTF?

below it...a cupcake and Where's The Frosting?

Okay, I guess it is helpful. Kids enjoy swears that avoid the actual swear but suggest it. It's like being in on the joke, you know?

Perhaps your character almost says the word but stops himself in time...?

My problem is similar. I tend to have characters who want to say, Oh my god, or Good heavens! but I'm trying to find alternatives that wouldn't be seen as offensive to religious readers. I mean, why offend when you don't need to?
 

Amarie

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Judy, it's good you are doing that. I don't thiink some writers are aware of that issue. When I've tried to set up some school visits at schools with religious affiliatons, all the school librarians either quizzed me on content or said they'd have to read the books themselves.
n
 

DanielaTorre

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I think what bothers me the most about this situation is that most of the words we've discussed like "crap" and "damn" and "hell" isn't really swearing. I would certainly be peeved if it said "shit" and "asshole", but is it so bad to say "damn" and "hell".

For example "What the hell was that?" (I use heck instead) or I hate this damn thing(I use bloody, ruddy, stupid instead).
 

LadyA

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In the UK, words like 'crap', 'bloody', 'flipping', 'arse', 'damn', 'hell', 'git', 'shag' etc aren't that bad, although 'arse' or 'bloody' I haven't seen in any MG books. I think it depends on the context. I know that there are plenty of pretty religious parts of America, whereas the UK is a little less so. Sometimes things like 'badass' are acceptable if there's no alternative that reads right (although 'hardcore' might work), and 'ass' in itself is considered more acceptable in the UK than its limey alternative 'arse', simply because some older people just think of it as donkey (like, 'you stupid ass').
 

Amarie

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I think what bothers me the most about this situation is that most of the words we've discussed like "crap" and "damn" and "hell" isn't really swearing. I would certainly be peeved if it said "shit" and "asshole", but is it so bad to say "damn" and "hell".

For example "What the hell was that?" (I use heck instead) or I hate this damn thing(I use bloody, ruddy, stupid instead).


Daniela, are you from the UK?

It's more that if you are writing for the U.S. market, "damn" and "hell" are considered swear words. And while the U.S. is a big place, it's somewhat of a cultural standard to not encourage kids to use swear words, at least in schools.

And for your examples, it would be fine to just say "What was that?" or "I hate this stupid thing." This last sentence is one I hear at my house a lot when my 11-yr-old is referring to certain homework assignments. :)

eta: here's another way I decide what to use. If you were out in public somewhere, would it surprise you to hear a ten-year-old spontaneously say "What the hell was that?" To me, it just doesn't sound like kidspeak. Some start testing out swear words with their peers at that age or a little later, but it doesn't become part of their normal vocabulary (for those who adopt it) for quite a while.
 
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Mari

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Mari

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My son watches Zeke and Luther. They have some pretty entertaining insults: bus waxer, pit sniffer, nozzle jockey, nose breather. They say 'ah crab cakes' instead of crap.

That got me thinking. My 22 year old will say "well, mother-flipper!" instead of ... well ... you know. ;)
 

MsJudy

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FYI, swear words are very cultural. In Spanish, "stupid" is an extremely offensive word. Since I teach a lot of bilingual kids, I usually end up changing it to "dumb" when I'm reading a book out loud. Otherwise, there's a huge gasp that certainly distracts from the story.
 

cara

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Eoin Colfer just made up a swear word in Artimis Fowl, so why not try that? Especially if it's a fantasy/scifi.
I personally never had a problem with them as a kid, neither did my parents, so long as they aren't the BIG BAD ones.
 

Amarie

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FYI, swear words are very cultural. In Spanish, "stupid" is an extremely offensive word. Since I teach a lot of bilingual kids, I usually end up changing it to "dumb" when I'm reading a book out loud. Otherwise, there's a huge gasp that certainly distracts from the story.


Wow, I had no idea. thanks!