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To Curse or Not to Curse: On Pottymouth Blogging

Blogs are all about voice — we respond to a blog when we connect to the person behind it. While…

Blogs are all about voice — we respond to a blog when we connect to the person behind it. While tone, style, and formality vary depending on the blogger’s goals, most bloggers hope that their voice comes through clearly.

For some of us, being true to our voices means unleashing the occasional (or not-so-occasional) f-bomb, which can either draw readers in or shoot your blog in the figurative foot. Is there a place for pottymouths in the blogosphere, and how do you decide how much to let fly?

Can you @$^($ and still be a good writer?

Not everyone wants to check in to the Lucky Cuss. Photo by Thomas Hawk,  (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Not everyone wants to check in to the Lucky Cuss. Photo by Thomas Hawk, (CC BY-NC 2.0).

First, some context: I talk — and on my personal blogs, write — like a drunken sailor who was just informed she’s being audited and then got a paper cut from the IRS letter. Also, I’m from New Jersey, where cursing as a second language is taught beginning in the second grade.

While there are plenty of good reasons to keep your bloggy language clean, I also don’t believe that curse words are necessarily the sign of a weak or unimaginative writer (reasonable writers may disagree). Excessive reliance on them may undermine your arguments or drive readers away, but a thoughtfully deployed %&!# can be a thing of beauty; they’re laden with meaning and emotion, so one word can convey a lot of power in an impressively spare way.

Keep it clean

If you’re not sure about indelicate language on a blog your mother reads, you’re not alone — lots of people are uncomfortable about cursing on their sites, and there are real reasons it might not be a great idea, like:

no-profanity

  • It might limit your audience. Consider your subject matter and audience — will cursing work against your message, or make readers less likely to return? Think about a crafting blog aimed at parents and children, or an academically-oriented foreign policy site. If you were explaining something you’d written about to your ideal reader, would you be comfortable cursing?
  • You use your blog as a portfolio. If your blog serves a professional purpose — maybe you use it as a sample when going after other writing gigs, or it’s your online resume — cursing might not be the foot you want to put forward. (There are exceptions, of course, depending on the kind of work or writing you do.)
  • It’s just not your voice. If #*(@% isn’t normally a part of your lexicon, there’s no need for it to be on your blog. When tossing in an f-bomb feels forced, it’ll lack impact; readers won’t respond, and you’ll feel like you compromised something. To thine own self be true.

Who gives a @$^($?

profanityIf you’re not normally a curser, it doesn’t fit your blog, or you dislike seeing them, you might wonder why anyone would ever curse on their site. There’s one big, good reason, and it’s pretty much the same as the reason not to curse:

  • It is your voice. I once wrote a food blog where cursing was a fairly regular occurrence.  The best comment I ever got from a reader was “when I read your blog, it’s like we’re sitting around the kitchen table, having a cup of coffee and talking.” Since my goal in writing the blog was to create a fun, informal experience like having your friends over for dinner, getting that feedback was a huge win.

Curses are also great for stopping people in their tracks. Since curse words are so heavy with meaning, judiciously deploying them creates a dramatic moment. Just as you stop and listen whenever your quiet friend has something to say, a strategic curse makes your readers sit up and pay attention; there’s a reason they call it the f-bomb. Plus, science can’t be wrong:

Physiologically, swearwords induce greater skin conductance responses than do other words, even emotionally evocative words such as death or cancer. (The skin conductance response indicates the extent of a person’s emotional arousal by measuring the degree to which his or her skin conducts electricity.)

From Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing

Managing pottymouth

So what should you do?I can’t tell you. Sorry! It depends on your comfort level, your goals, and your audience, and there’s no formulaic answer. If you’re on the fence and think you might want to try introducing a &$?#@ or two, here are a few ways to blunt your first foray into cursing:

  • Curse in a foreign language. Foreign-language cursing mitigates some of the bite: for English speakers, “merde!” has a class and elegance that “sh*t!” will never possess. You get to inject your personality and heritage — and make your point — without going the full monty.
  • Keep profanity out of post titles, or replace curse words with symbols*. Curse words in post titles might turn some folks away before they have a chance to read your scintillating thoughts (their loss, I know!), and they can deter some people from sharing your posts with their social networks — it’s one thing to read a blog that curses, another to plaster those curses on your own Facebook feed. (Some people argue that symbols are pointless, because we all know what the word is meant to be… which is true, but symbols do diminish the immediate impact.)
  • Save profanity for after the jump to keep your home page squeaky clean. If your blog’s home page uses post excerpts, you can use them to keep your home page family friendly by making sure any four-letter words require a click.
  • Make it clear — via your “About” page or a widget — that your blog is not for those with delicate constitution. Let people know that your site uses some PG-13 language, so readers can decide whether they’re comfortable.
  • Use a dedicated tag or category for posts with rough language. If you’re typically mild-mannered but get a little salty in certain types of posts, create a category for them.

(Note: this advice is aimed at those who aren’t sure about cursing, or want to mitigate their language. If cursing works for you and your blog and you’re comfortable with it, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.)

Every piece of your blog, from your header to your theme to the posts themselves, reinforces your brand. Cursing doesn’t automatically damage a brand — look at mega-bloggers like The Bloggess. Your objectives, natural voice, and tone dictate whether dropping a @*(&#! will send readers running or have them sitting around your kitchen table for another drink.

What do you do on your blog? Do you read bloggers who curse on their sites?

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  1. This is such a hard call. I occasionally let myself loose, but mostly, try not to. It’s somehow different when you write it versus say it. Saying it dissipates in the air … but once you’ve written it, it’s on your permanent record. I’m not sure I want it there.

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      1. Omg, YEAH. I still remember seeing that for the first time. I laughed at first, but then when I had time to think about it, I felt so sorry for her. That video is going to follow her for the rest of her life, and there are millions of people around the world who will only know her for that. The internet’s kinda scary when you think of it in those terms…

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    1. This is such a good point. I don’t think I could have said it better myself. I’ve toned myself down quite drastically, unfortunately, the *older* posts don’t demonstrate that…

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    2. You make great point. I think the key difference is that when you write it, you have time to evaluate what your going to say, vs. saying it, where you stand an excellent chance of being just as surprised by your expletive outburst as everyone else in the room.

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  2. I think limiting profanity is good…however at times i will have a pottymouth. I want my reader to feel as if we are just seating in my living room drinking a few beers while watching a random game and having chats about random subjects.

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  3. I’ve had a few people come right out and tell me they can’t (read won’t) share my blogs because of my occasional foul (read Jersey) potty mouth. I don’t really get it, at all, but also don’t feel that it restricts my audience enough to care. That said, I used to have a blog called The Wellness B&tch, so you can see where I am coming from,

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  4. This might be the thing I worry most about. I write about so many things.

    When I write about the fallout from my divorce and my wife having sex with someone else, I tend to use bad words.

    When I write honestly about how I felt or what I, or someone else, said in a story I’m telling, I choose to use whatever accurate profanity happened in that moment.

    I sometimes use bad words when I’m being playful, because it is how I speak.

    On the flip side, I want very much to be a good person. I care about spiritual balance. About encouraging people to be more than they are in hopes that I can do the same. I want to deliver meaningful messages of hope when appropriate.

    I’m sure my language can certainly turn more-sensitive readers off, I’m guessing, though I’ve never had anyone ask me to tone it down (except for my boss at work four times in two years).

    In the end, I choose honesty. And honesty, for me, requires I use bad words. Because I use bad words. I’m neither proud of that or celebrating it. It just is.

    I hope people can see past it. To see a person trying hard to grow. Trying hard to be better today than I was yesterday.

    Time will tell.

    Great post, Michelle.

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  5. I don’t throw the F-bomb around casually. The only times I curse in real life is when my emotions, outrage catches me off guard and I will let it loose. So on my blog I curse when I want to convey my intense feelings/shock about something that I feel I can’t get across with civil words. Also, I think that people that substitute words for curse words are still cursing with their intent anyway, so “gosh” and other words don’t really mask anything for me.

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  6. I recently noted that I don’t swear like I thought I would on my blog. I’m a solid curser in reality and defend my right to do so. I like to say I use curse words for punctuation! I added Rated S! and Rated F! tags to my posts, though, so they can be avoided (or accessed directly!).

    I like the idea that I’m “arousing” skin when I curse…hehehe

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  7. I don’t swear in my posts but it could be because I am not writing about things that make me angry. I am also not someone who swears a lot in day to day life though either. If I start reading a blog and it has lots of f-bombs in it I will stop reading what that person has to say. I feel that things can be said and points can be made without swearing.

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  8. You’re right. The rare swear can really add to “voice”…but, after a number of swears where it’s plain the writer is feeling good – and I’m not – I leave. It communicates very little…except about the author.

    Ironically, the prevalence of it started to rub off on me! So, I withdrew for a time to…gave my head a shake:)

    Feeling better now…and pursuing authors that add to my life…including the exampling of…self control.

    Thanks for broaching the topic. Truly appreciate the discussion.

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    1. A fascinating topic – and one which needs airing from time to time, in my opinion. I DO swear, both in ‘real’ life and on here. Not on all my posts – the more lyrical ones are curse-free – and I do try and warn readers in advance. However, what I would say is this: there are far worse things than swearing; there are far more sinister and insidious ways of word-wounding than the odd ‘f’ word! I swear to let off steam; I do not use such words as a cudgel with which to wound others.
      But, the other thing is this: I was a teacher for thirty years and could see, all around me, the effects of making certain words, and concepts, forbidden, taboo, naughty and dirty. They are WORDS! We have invested them with ‘potty’ connotations! Because we have inhibitions and so forth about things sexual and excretory, we give them a weight quite at variance with their importance in life!
      To me, the real nastiness – on here, as in life – is the deliberate us of word-scalpels to cut, dismiss, diminish and hurt others; to make other writers feel that they are insignificant or wrong!
      Now, obviously, I am not for one moment suggesting that every second word should be a four-letter one. What I am saying is that it is time we brought these words out of the closet of shame and fear. If our children see them as an integral part of their everyday experience, they will stop feeling it is big and exciting to swear!
      Strange, isn’t it, that no one has made words like ‘rape’ ‘kill’ ‘maim’ or ‘murder’ taboo. That far more fuss is made about the use of sex-related swear words than words of violence and oppression…
      But, this is just my opinion!

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      1. Thanks for this comment; the “they’re just words” point was one I debated raising and ultimately didn’t for fear of derailing the conversation, but it’s an important one.

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      2. I wasn’t distracted by even ONE indulgent swear. I was truly interested in everything you had to say. We are more in agreement than in disagreement, I believe. Those “nasty” words that you mention, that “dismiss, diminish and hurt others” also reveal something about the author….and, just like with the overwhelming “swears”, I also “click off” those whose attitudes refuse to be “teachable”…as I, also, hope to remain…teachable.
        I’m DELIGHTED that you stopped to…engage:)

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      3. Thank you very much for such a thoughtful and interesting response. I would agree with you about words revealing something about the author: our basic selves seep out whether we consciously realise it or not – and no amount of so-called cleaning-up on swearwords is going to make a nasty person any nicer!

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      4. Amen. And we’re all broken in one way or another…constantly. I’m learning to love the broken-ness in each one of us…but I do limit the “indulgences” in both myself…and the input I allow from others. Being “broken” is alright. It’s where we all…live.

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  9. I’m in the middle, I have posts where I let it go and posts where I keep it clean. I’m also from NJ so I know that second-grade-taught potty mouth all too well. Not only that, my late grandfather was a trucker/sailor. I try to keep a rein on it though and not make it every single post I’m cursing in.

    Cursing is in my veeeeeeins!

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  10. If you’re cursing in your head, then NOT doing so in fact undermines authenticity. It’s all about the inner monologue, and sometimes my inner monologue’s got a tongue of its own…

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  11. Swearing isn’t creative. It may add voice, but there is no creativity in it. There are better ways to express yourself than dropping to the bowels of expression. Cursing is sort of like vomit. It shouldn’t happen often and nobody really enjoys it.

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    1. I enjoy it very much. Just because you don’t doesn’t mean no one does. And there are a plethora of ways to curse creatively.

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  12. Interesting this came up as I was just writing a post where the f-bomb seemed an appropriate addition. However, my blog is G-rated and cursing is not part of my normal lexicon. I’m truly on the fence and have the post ready to go in drafts while I decide what to do. I know for a lot of people this is a non-issue, but I want readers coming away from the post saying “great work” and not “This doesn’t sound at all like Huffygirl.” Anyone who has read my blog, what do you think?

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    1. If it’s not part of your normal blog vocabulary but seems natural and appropriate in the context of that particular post, I hesitate to say that one f-bomb turns the post into “not-Huffygirl.” If you suddenly dropped the bomb in conversation, would your friends think “this isn’t Huffygirl!”? (But that’s also a judgment call, so good idea to seek feedback.)

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  13. I have a hard time with this. I swear- a lot- in my daily speech. I tone it down at work and all. When I’m writing, I use swears occasionally. And in the few videos I’ve uploaded, my swearing is evident. But the audience I write for, outdoorsfolk, use much less profane language than I would have thought. My dad and his buddies all swore like sailors, but the outdoorsfolk I’ve found online… don’t. They seem to be pretty straightlaced and proper. I find myself limiting my language and opinions in an effort to connect. I wonder when I’ll break that mold, and if, when I do, I’ll alienate people. I’m really quite different from typical outdoorsfolk in a number of ways.

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    1. It’s a tough one — you may become a magnet for other outdoorsfolk who share your outlook (that’s what ended up happening with my food blog), or you may find that your goals for your site make it a good idea to tone things done. I wish we could give you more definitive advice!

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  14. Though I, too, swear like a sailor, I keep it clean on my blog. I’ll insert at PG 13 comment instead of the Big Bad Words. My motivation is the fact that my mother’s 81-year old cousin reads my personal blog. She flipped when I wrote about my son being an atheist. I can only imagine what she’d do if I dropped “F” bombs. I did manage to write a post about the various names for the male genitalia, however.

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  15. I swear on both of my blogs. I have for one reason or another made a point on a particular post not to swear, but that is the exeption and not the rule. Things are just funnier with swear words. People swear and I appreciate them taking the risk. If a person awears when they write, than i know they are being genuine in there opinion because they do so knowing that some would be offended and doesnt care

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  16. It’s a turn off for me too. I hear it in daily life, more than I would like. I don’t want to read it. It is distressing that children are exposed to much more than they should at their young ages. Ok.. I am a grandma…

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  17. Thank you SO much for the well-timed post on cursing. I just penned a draft called, “We are all dealing with some serious s@#% here” and am definitely on the fence. Cursing is certainly my voice…but, it’s usually filtered and sent to play quietly in my head. I’m still not sure what I will ultimately decide, but your words certainly helped and will give me plenty to consider. Thanks so much!!

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  18. My mother never swore – and she said ‘People swear because of a lack of proficiency in the English language’. That sentence plagues my writing because I certainly don’t want to be known as lacking proficiency. However – if my character swears – well that’s his/her lack, not mine. I hope people see the difference.

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