Menu

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?

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?

You might also be interested in:

Show Comments

158 Comments

Comments are closed.

Close Comments

Comments

  1. I love this post. While I swear like a sailor in RT, I rarely swear in my writing. I’m not sure why, it just FEELS dirtier when you see it in black and white (or pink and green, depending on the font)

    Like

  2. This is a really interesting topic. As someone who doesn’t swear, I am not offended when reading bloggers posts who do swear, but it mostly depends on the context. I would be more inclined to reactive positively to a post that uses swearing for humour, but I would definitely be turned off from a blog that swears out of anger. However, I do think that each blogger has the right to swear if they wish, because blogs are their channel of personal expression.

    Like

  3. Authenticity is so important. If you are a sweary person, a sweary blog might suit you. I am still trying to find my voice when writing. So far, so curse free. I have been surprised that my written voice differs from my spoken one. Or maybe I am finding the things I say with confidence, harder to communicate in written words? That aside, I am a passionate believer that sometimes only a swear word will do. If unsure, you can always just say “Feck”.

    Like

  4. I am not swearing out of habit or because I am unimaginative – I swear because sometimes it is just the right thing to do. On my blog it is just forbidden to insult other people, not to swear in general. Do not say “the f***ing person” – do say “what the h***” whenever you feel like it on my blog.-
    But I make a point not to swear in comments to other people’s posts – unless I know they can take it … When I do comment on the blog of someone else I have not followed for longer I usually keep those comments clean. But when I know the person her- or himself uses strong language (I am not willing to judge it as foul or bad or wrong) I might be tempted to join in – the more so, when it is done in a funny way.

    Like

  5. For me, it is all about how to generate the right effect, Many times I will leave the actual word out, and let the reader fill in the blank with his or her mind. As an example, I ended one of my entries with the line –

    “I was happy as a pig in …….”

    It gives the desired effect without having to shout it out or draw attention to it with those “swearing” symbols. And it also leaves a little bit of the innocence there.

    My mother still thinks the missing word was Love.

    This of course does not mean I am opposed to swearing. It would not be difficult to find a few choice words hidden among my writing.

    Like

  6. Sometimes I think it iS appropriate to swear in anger. In my post today – in response to the Daily Prompt – I wrote an open letter to the unknown man who sexually attacked me twenty five years ago. And, though the anger is controlled – and my word choices carefully considered – I have allowed a few swearwords out. People may well be shocked – but I HOPE they will be more shocked by what happened than by my choosing to curse!

    Like

  7. In general, I think it’s a good idea to limit the expletives. Sometimes, though, a cleverly placed one can be appropriate. As someone who is a college educator in my “real life,” this is something I tell students. Gratuitous swearing is always ugly, regardless. Now that I think about it, I’m not sure I have a single swear word in all my posts. Never really thought about it before….

    Good post and entertaining read, thank you!

    Like

    1. I agree about gratuitous swearing. I have read books and seen movies where it seems like every third or fourth word is a swearword and I don’t like that. It’s not that I am old-fashioned; I don’t have a problem with the occasional cuss word and I do read blogs whose authors swear. But in general, I prefer not to use them myself (unless I stub my toe really badly…then I might let one fly!)

      Like

  8. I know and use all the salty words in conversation with friends, but I decided that my writing would have the tone of the editorial page of a quality newspaper. So I don’t use “those words” when I blog, and I set my comment filter to moderate for the worst of those words. When they show up in comments, I edit them to replace some letters with asterisks, then I approve them. It’s a bit fussy, but my blog is mostly about science, and I think cursing detracts from the topic. But I don’t condemn other bloggers who do things differently. It’s a personal choice, nothing more.

    Like

  9. This is a very good question for writing in general. I tend not to allow my characters to swear, but sometimes it is right for them to do so, and I have to stay honest to their voice.
    So… limiting profanity is probably a good idea, but eliminating it altogether in an age when it is part of the vernacular … tough call.

    Like

  10. I don’t use the big three dirty words (the f-word, the s-word, and the c-word) on my primary blog for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to use them on occasion. I have a separate anonymous blog that my mom doesn’t know exists where I cuss like a sailor, and I occasionally write pieces for other blogs where I know a well-placed expletive is appreciated for the wallop they can pack. It’s cathartic and good, but mostly it helps me to keep from saying those words around my toddler who is acquiring language like crazy.

    Like

  11. I’m not anti-profanity. One of my blog’s taglines has a curse word in it – right there smack-dab in everyone face.
    My first drafts are often riddled with profanity. By the time it’s published, I’ve edited them out, sometimes completely. I have no problem leaving one or two, like in my post yesterday when I left in “women put up with a great deal of shit” because that was the only way I could express that thought without upping the word count, yet remaining true to my voice.
    I don’t mind reading blogs with cursing, but I do draw the line if it’s non-stop f-this and f-that because it does get distracting. They’re words, but, like all words, when used excessively I wonder if I shouldn’t send the writer a thesaurus.

    Like

  12. I usually don’t swear. There are so many words to choose from and most of the time another word is appropriate…but on the very rare occasion I do use profanity–it packs a punch!

    Like

  13. I often wonder if I’m offending anyone, as that would never be my intent. I honestly don’t believe that I can write anything without cursing. I swear, a lot, so if I’m writing about personal experiences I feel like I wouldn’t be being true to myself if I edited those words out.

    Like

  14. I swear like a sailor. In my blog – I do my best to keep it clean, but sometimes the emotions get too too much. I did a couple blog posts where the title was “FUCK YOU …. ” and I have had moments where I did a joke out of my ass (posted a picture of a donkey everywhere I would have said ass). Overall – I just keep it real – if it sounds and feels authentic – there it is. If not… then I find some other way to make it work.

    Like

  15. I don’t curse or swear in real life, so I don’t on my blog, either. One of the problems I have with cursing is that when it happens all the time, where do you go when something really bad happens and you “need” some bad language? Used constantly, I think it loses it effect. Personally, a lot of cursing would keep me from reading or following a blog…or reading a book or going to a movie, etc. The humorous exception was an Irish movie our younger daughter and I saw at the Cleveland Film Festival a few years ago. “Feckin'” must have been used in almost every sentence and as every part of speech. It really distracted me from what was an intense movie, because I found myself just waiting for the next one. But as you say, even though I know it means the same as my least favorite word, it didn’t feel as offensive because it was different. 🙂

    janet

    Like

    1. I try and not swear, a friend a couple of weeks ago heard me say the F word and she laughed because she said that she has never heard me swear and me and the word doesn’t go together, she uses the F word, C word what ever word, I don’t mind it is up to yourself whether you do or not. The minister on the Ark Royal one of the UK largest aircraft carriers was asked about the men and women swearing, his reply was sensible, he said that the words are just words, its a way of expressing a feeling, which I agree with him, some situation need that extra word to get your point across, what you rather have “You f**king Asshole” or a punch in the face I know what I would have.

      A comedian the other week was telling a true story about the time when he saw and heard a situation when a swear word was really needed and it showed just how a swear word can change something so innocent to really getting your point across.

      He was at a football (soccer) match and those of you who have not experienced a football match in the UK may not get this, a foul had taken place and the referee did something that this man did not agree with and he stands up in the stadium and points and shouts
      ” b..b..b…FUCKING BOOOOOOO”

      And I think if there was ever a need for the F word then it was then, there are occasions when BOOOOO is just not enough and I think then the F word just says it all.

      Like

  16. I don’t swear when writing posts for my blog, however, I do swear in conversation at times. When it comes to writing, I just try to keep in my mind that cursing does offend some people very much, and I don’t want that to keep anyone from reading my blog. But I will also say that I
    m following a couple of blogs where cursing is par for the course, and I don’t mind it at all. In fact, it can be very entertaining to me at times.

    I think there’s a time and place for certain language, and also there’s a certain audience that it’s meant for, and an audience that it isn’t necessarily.

    Like

  17. I’m from the Scotland-crossed-with-Eddie-Izzard school of swearing, on and offline: rather than curses, I consider them adjectives. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, then I agree, don’t do it. I was never brought up to hear language as dangerous or repulsive, but I was taught about the power some words can hold versus others. Obviously, if you’re writing for children, then yes, swearing is probably not the best move. On and offline, I can be eloquent and articulate when needed, but there are times when there aren’t many other options. I also quote on my blog, and I don’t see the point in censoring someone else’s words. I don’t write for a particular audience, either, nor do I fear my family. I write for me.

    Fundamentally, if you don’t like it, then don’t read it. Some people take issue, others don’t. It’s a big world out there, not everyone has to like you nor do you have to like them…

    – Laidig.

    Like

  18. I went to search my blog, and found I went seven months before my first “fuck”, then seventeen posts with it last year and nineteen this year so far, including in useful compounds like “fuckwit” and “clusterfuck”. Fifteen posts with “shit” including “bullshit” and “dealing with my shit”. Once I wrote “fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck”, which expressed how I felt, but shows how the more one swears the less effect it has, on writer or reader. And I quote, as well- someone called me a “sick fuck”, and it would be silly to bleep that.

    It is deliberate. Speaking, it can just come out, but if I swear in writing, I look at it, could delete it if I chose, and so leaving it is an extra choice.

    “When I see a couple of kids and guess
    he’s fucking her and she’s
    taking pills or wearing a diaphragm
    I know this is paradise

    everyone old has dreamed of all their lives”
    wrote Larkin, and that is simply the right word. None of the many synonyms- “bonking” was not around then- has the same meaning.

    Like

  19. I don’t make hard and fast decisions like this. It’s my blog, not a business plan. If I feel like cussing, I’ll cuss. If I don’t, I won’t. My blog flies by the seat of it’s little bloggy pants.

    Like

  20. I use fuck like it’s a pronoun and make no apologies for it, though my better blog posts are mostly free of bad language. I like to think that my sarcastic tone is pretty evident in my writing and that most people get it and know that I’m not cursing just to be cursing. I do realize that some people will be turned off by even the tiniest of dicks or shits or whatever, and that’s ok. They can follow somebody else so I can be me. That’s the point of writing, right? To be you?

    Like

  21. The occasional Fbomb is sometimes necessary in a post but when the writer relies on cussing to swing the post, well I have to think did good writers like David Foster Wallace cuss to get their point across.. Not often.. the occasional curse is funny and necessary just not as the backbone of your post..I read cussers and non-cussers..

    Like

  22. As someone who writes stories and plays as well as blogs, I usually try to fit the words to the (imaginary) character uttering them. What I can’t stand is the use of * eg f***k off – I’m happy for people to use or not use a particular word but not to hide coyly behind a string of asterisks is just silly.
    I generally avoid obscenities if only because I don’t want some clever search engine to find them and perhaps get me blacklisted!

    Like

  23. I try not to curse in my writing and if I feel it’s required I always opt for a few well placed asterisks, however my blog has received some pretty intense responses from an audience I never intended to discover it. Rather than ignore their comments (which I attempted initially) I’ve published a page called the Wall of Shame which is my backhanded dedication to those haters. I still try not to rise to it, but positive cussing is fine in my book.

    Like