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Swear Words in Text

Grawlixes, maledicta, and more.

By
Mignon Fogarty,
May 15, 2009
Episode #170

Page 1 of 3

grawlixToday's show is still work-safe and family-friendly, but we're going to talk about how to deal with swearing in novels, quotations, and other types of text.

My friend Scott Sigler and I were talking about his new book, The Rookie, the other day, and he mentioned that he had to do a lot of extra work because of the swearing in it, which made me start thinking about swearing in general

Here's what happened.

Writing Out the Swearing

The Rookie is a crazy book about a pro football league 700 years in the future. Scott describes it as Any Given Sunday meets The Godfather meets Star Wars. So, as you can imagine, language among such characters isn't always as pure as the driven snow.

Scott gave away The Rookie as a free podcast with adult language, and then edited it to create a young adult version to sell as a hardcover book and iPhone app. He had to modify language to fit a young adult audience, yet still keep the story integrity and intensity. 

Sometimes he was able to just drop the offensive word and the paragraph kept its punch and meaning. I'll read a little bit of it, so you can hear it in context.

Here's one section before editing:

"They can’t handle being in the same cities with the aliens, being on the same buses, shuttles and transport tubes. I mean, have you ever seen a Sklorno up close?” Stedmar’s face wrinkled with disgust. “You can see right through their skin. And they drool. It’s a big [bleeping] adjustment.”

In that case, it's pretty easy to just take out the expletive:

"You can see right through their skin. And they drool. It’s a big adjustment.”

Other times, you can't just drop the expletive, you need to replace it to communicate the same intensity, anger, or disgust. Again, I'll read it all the way through first so you can hear it in context.

Here's a section before editing:

It was too much to bear. Quentin turned and stormed away, heading out of the landing bay and back to his room. Help? From a [bleepe unholy Sklorno? As if Quentin were some bush league quarterback who needed to work on his [bleep] route passing? [Bleeping] Pine. He’d show that [bleep]; one way or another, he’d show him!

Now, listen to the rewrite. Scott took out a bunch of the cursing, but also replaced [bleep] with "jerk."

Help? From an unholy Sklorno? As if Quentin were some bush league quarterback who needed to work on his route passing? Pine. He’d show that jerk, one way or another, he’d show him!

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