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 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?
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:
- 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 @$^($?
If 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.)
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?