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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 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. I really enjoyed this. While I generally do not curse myself, I believe in free speech. Curse words will not turn me away. I look for the meaning of a post. Great post 🙂

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  2. This is tough because I curse and I curse when I write. I do find it very beautiful and human. I’m flawed and I’m not afraid to lay it on the table. Im not cursing in every sentence but just sometimes an occasional Fbomb feels great. It’s liberating and to readers who aren’t afraid of it I believe it connects to them in a very personal way. I do agree it being a little much if your blog serves as a portfolio which I intend to so I will consider using symbols!
    Really great F*%$ing post by the way(laughs)!

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  3. It’s interesting. I self-edited the F-bomb twice out of a post today. I am a full blown verbally loose potty mouth in my normal life, but whilst my Blog is all about ranting and raging, my elderly parents are readers, so I keep my writing cleanish. Ugh! Sometimes you just need to fucking curse. Ya know?

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  4. I recently just started blogging and I believe I’ve already let the cursing fly. I enjoyed this post, how you break down the angles is done perfectly. It all boils down to judging, doesn’t it? Profiling the writer into the image the reader either the reader identifies with or doesn’t, agrees with or doesn’t. I believe with blogging it conveys personality and plain humanness. Let it fly is what I say, I can almost guarantee I’m going to continue to let it be, especially at this stage in my life with the circumstances the way they are. Much thanks to his post of yours.

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  5. I don’t curse on my blog and I don’t in real life. I do read a few blogs that use curse words and one in particular I really like – not because of the colorful language. However, I wouldn’t recommend that blog via social media for that reason.

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  6. I think it all depends how you were brought up. If cursing was present in the home since childhood, it follows how you express yourself in adulthood.

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  7. This post gave me a lot to think about since I occasionally put a swear word in my blog posts. It honestly is the way I speak in real life, and my blog is creative non-fiction since it is written by me and about my girly life ❤ I think my audience can find humor when I do use swear words, just as if my reader and I were sitting down for coffee or food together! That's how I want/see my readers. =)

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  8. Being Irish, I use more swear words than regular ones. I would never be offended reading them but I do try not to do it as often now I have kids and as for doing it online, typing takes more thought so I am less likely to swear compared to to reactive swearing in real life.

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  9. People who don’t know me well (i.e. people who think I’m “nice” or “polite”) are surprised that I curse like a sailor with friends and others close to me. I do the same on my blog. Well, I don’t do it that much, but sometimes a swear word is the most effective way to state how you feel about a certain situation or thing.

    Honestly, I get why some people can’t stand cursing, but they’re the sorts of people I don’t care to attract to my blog anyway.

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  10. As long as there is not excessive use of profanity, it is perfectly acceptable, particularity if your blog is a literary work. There isn’t a writer in the universe that writes a book or column that doesn’t use explicit language at one time or another. Lets face it, life is about all kinds of characters and art mimics life. No one enjoys a conversation with a flagrant potty mouth, especially one who doesn’t understand common sense and decorum. All writers, particularly novelists, make use of this type of expression. If your blog is a commentary as most are, you would want to be judicious in your use of profanity so as not to offend, unless of course this is your end goal. There are plenty of public figures that make a living off of being vulgar.

    No one can please everyone all of the time. Personally, the novels I write make very conservative use of off color language, but only with the aim of bringing the reader to a sense of realism in time and space.

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  11. Funny, but I don’t talk like I write. I do cuss a LOT in person and I’m not too concerned about my audience. I recognize that I might be offending sopmeone but it is a bad habit. When I write I try to never write a curse word when some other word will do and there is always another word. Guess I’m hoping that my kids read my scribblings amd I want them to be sweet.

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  12. This is always a fun and interesting topic. As you said, there are a lot of considerations that must be made when deciding whether or not to swear in a professional blog. Assuming a context in which cursing is appropriate, I tend toward the view that swear words are powerful words and should generally be treated as such.

    If you use them all the time, they lose their meaning, their ability to shock. If, however, you reserve such words for times of true urgency and emotional peaks, it can be the verbal salt needed to really communicate the fullness of your message to the reader.

    And, of course, there are times where it’s appropriate to curse often, particularly when you’re writing in the voice of a person who naturally uses those kinds of words all the time (characters in fiction immediately come to mind for me.) Although even then, I think it’s still good to apply a certain amount of minimal filtering, similar to how you would filter out filler words like ahs and umms in dialog.

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  13. I never really thought of this. I’ve also never quite noticed swearing in blogs. Either it doesn’t bother me so I don’t notice, or the blogs I read don’t use “harsh” language. It could also be that most of the blogs I read are local to Utah. That’s it. I’m from Utah. Swearing doesn’t come naturally to me, but I don’t think I would avoid following a blog because of it. Interesting post. I dig.

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  14. I don’t usually swear on my blog. Not that I have anything against it when it is done in moderation, but I want my blog to be appropriate for a wide audience. If I swore all the time I think it’d A. sound weird and B. make me lose my younger audience.

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  15. I try to maintain a conversational tone in my blogs, and since I have been known to curse like a sailor…well, I do try to keep it clean, but if I’m writing a story and somebody drops a bomb on me, like, say for instance, I open a registered letter informing me that I’ve been sued for $500,000, well then FUCK!!! SHIT!!! and you know, all like that.

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  16. For my own personal blog, I haven’t cursed yet. In real life, occasionally the sh*t comes out.

    Am I prude? Look, I was raised by a mother who swore in Chinese. Guess raising 6 kids got to her at times. 😉 We were forbidden not to repeat those Chinese swear words.

    I’d rather not send out the wrong, distracting message to readers since my blog really wants to celebrate and complain occasionally but more in a way that provides something positive in the end.

    I do read blogs if the curse word is rare. If it’s a habit, it’s a turn-off. In real life, I just tune out the habitual curser. Life is short: do I have to hear the tiring expletive..again? Same for reading blogs: Life is short. Make the reader’s time worthwhile

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  17. And the older you get, swearing lots from an elder, is ..um…actually unpleasant and disappointing: I (unfairly) expect someone to become mature enough, to handle bad stuff with more graceful, strategic anger.

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  18. I have a 21 month old, so I try not to use profanity. It is difficult sometimes to leave it out of everyday life. I understand the need for swearing. It feels good. It relieves stress & sometimes things are just worthy of a sh!t or a f*ck. I agree that an appropriately placed f-bomber can add just the right amount of !!!!, especially when trying to express a point that you are particularly passionate about. Having said that, I have read some posts that I find lose their credibility because of excessive swearing.

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  19. I don’t really want readers who can’t accept me as I am. I don’t curse often when I write because I am not, usually, writing dialogue. Mine is primarily a photoblog. But when that f%^&*@$g biker knocked me down and broke my lens? The blog that day was completely in my voice and anyone who didn’t like it? Buh bye.

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  20. I have to agree with the concept of watching your language when writing a blog, article, or report. But, I must admit that periodically I have discussed a topic in my writing that has so disgusted or angered me that my emotion would not be adequately conveyed less the curse words. I also tend to look upon blogging as “real” people versus “Professional Writers.” This is not to say that bloggers cannot be professional writers. If you write all the time and have readership, you are a pro at something, aren’t you? My point being, bloggers do not have to follow the same rules as a Pro Writer that actually gets paid enough to live on by writing. Bloggers are afforded at least a bit of leeway on less than desirable conduct by most conservative readers. However, unless your blog is based upon such negative conduct I would not make such a routine.

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    1. To be fair, there are also plenty of pro writers that curse, in both fiction and non-fiction; I wonder if the more useful distinction is between “trying to break into publishing” and “i have a name for myself and can say what I want now.”

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  21. I use colourful language sparingly – they can be effective when used in the right place at the right time. In a recently published novelette for Kindle, my protagonist utters the “F” word just once and my friend that proofread it (who is not prude) admitted to feeling shocked because she hadn’t expected it from the character though agreed contextually that it was the right thing to do.

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  22. I mostly write for myself, so I tend to not worry about swearing. I work in the service industry to it’s kind of become a second language. Anyone else who decides to stick around is just a bonus. People who already follow know what to expect, and those who don’t can either read on or move along; the same as if I were reading their material for the first time. The power of choice, my friends.

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  23. Interesting article – especially for a blogger with a blog name like mine (Yoh! WTF?) – nevertheless I do find myself revisiting and rewording when I notice that I just wrote an entire sentence of expletives.

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  24. I think it definitely depends on context – both what your blog is about and also what topic you are writing about. But I totally agree; if you want to swear, then go for it (but please put a ratings warning up!)

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  25. While I understand the validity of using an occasional curse word to drive home a point, I certainly think it should be an existing part of the framework of all one’s work. Even in blogging there is a certain professional decorum that should always be a part of the dynamic!!!

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