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Profanity in Books

This topic was inspired by a spectacle overheard a few weeks ago, when I was out and about and heard someone cursing up a storm. This person wasn’t riled or anything, just having a normal conversation with who I suppose was a friend, in a store where the conversation could be heard by someone like me looking for pretzels on aisle 11.

Honestly, I wasn't offended but found the dialogue mildly miffing. Forget where we were, the exchange didn’t even flow right.

It was like being at a LIVE concert and someone pulling out an inflatable bath tub and taking a bath. Of course, it's not taking a bath that's at issue, it boils down to whether we watch the concert, or the bath-taking rigamarole. WTH!?!

Or like the time I was in an arcade, with my children, when a couple just flat out started making out. Yes, it was crowded in there, and my kids stood right in front of the couple and looked with their mouths hanging open. And yes, too, I left the arcade losing about five bucks worth of quarters.

The point is, and this is depending... I’m no prude about profanity written in books. A few of my own books are bathed in this form of expression, though quite appropriately so must I add.

Of course too, which opens a whole ‘nother conversation; the appropriateness of using profanity in books depends on the story and writing style…something like using dirty bedroom talk behind closed doors would depend on the talker and the moment.

The point to be stressed here is, in the same way we wouldn’t (or at least I hope no one wouldn’t) go to church and fall out in the middle of an aisle screaming, “I can’t take the preaching at the me,” is the same way it is inappropriate to scream about profanity inside a book. There is an appropriate response to both.

Reading Between the Lines. "Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer." ― Mark Twain.


  1. I totally agree.

    Profanity works well in some books and would be inappropriate in others. On a personal level, I was very disappointed when someone mentioned in a review of my book Cats, Scarves and Liars that they were disappointed by what they considered offensive language. While I totally respect the right of the reviewer has to be offended and to mention in their review--after all the review is their space and their opinion is theirs to have and express--I was concerned that by being offended they had missed out on understanding the characters and what shaped them. Perhaps they are right and I could have expressed all of that without the profanity. Perhaps they are wrong. Perhaps it is an opinion and its fine for readers to have different ones. Perhaps listening to different opinions can help challenge us.

    In any case, my personal opinion about profanity in books is that its all about context. I wouldn't like in a children's or middle grade novel, and I probably wouldn't use it if I was writing for an audience who could be easily offended. (Can you imagine, a Harlequin romance with profanity?) But in a book with realistic dialogue? I think some scenes and the dialogue would lose their impact without some profanity in there.

    1. Gosh K— I could go on forever about this… but you have done a good job here honing in on things so I’ll leave it be and move on to the next thing.

      BTW - I LOVED, LOVED Cats, Scarves and Liars. You do an exceptional job creating your characters; and on top of this… WHADT!?! I hardly recall a lot of profanity in your books. That has to mean either it was barely present, or the story was so $*#&$% good that I missed that part… which reminds me… I think my next topic will be on *how* to read and enjoy a book.

      Thanks for this comment…and please don’t flatten your characters so that *everyone* (another topic I have to do) is fast asleep by page 2.


    That means a lot to me. I agree, characters should never be flattened. One of the (many) reasons that writers write and that readers read is to try and understand others and why they do things. Reading is a great way to developing a better understanding and, empathy for, people who are in different circumstances.

    If a writer dulls a character down, potentially, they are also depriving a reader the chance to know and understand what it is like to walk in another persons shoes.

    1. You're welcome & AMEN! So well stated.


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