Bookish Pet Peeves: That Damn Swearing Problem


Young adult literature seems to be overcome with that damn swearing problem lately. You know, that stupid ass problem where authors are scared to shove those fuckin' curses in our face and make up ones of their own? You know...the type of words that make you cringe and want to walk head first in a door while you damn everything to Hell.


I'll be the first to admit that I curse a lot. I've got a potty mouth inherited from my mother even though she questions where I got it from. Swearing has pretty much become my outlet for frustration, and I think that swearing is an important part of realism in young adult books. After all, it's fairly obvious now that I am the realism police and I will rip your unrealistic book to shreds.

Now, that's not to say that anyone should feel obligated to include swearing in their books. I know that some people like to keep their books clean and I respect that. Hell, I'll read those books, too. This post is mainly about those books that choose to include swearing in them...but don't do it the right way. These authors tackle realism by using swearing, but because they don't want to outright swear they make up their own swear words.

If these books were people I'd bop them in the head and tell them they should have had that damn V8.

I started noticing this trend because of a single book that I was completely unable to finish because of these fake cusses. While it had a promising plot, these fake cusses seriously bugged me because of how stupid they sounded. Throw the fact that they were used nearly every sentence in with the fact that the awesome plot was hindered by an abundance of cliches and this was just not the book for me. This book is Glitch by Heather
Anastasiu.
  • Godlam'd
  • Shunting
  • Cracking
These three words were inescapable. And they're a terrible three words. They made me cringe and ruined the book for me. They had me screaming SHUT UP to the characters. Instead of connecting with their voice, I wanted to strangle them half the time because their thought processes were so incredibly stupid!
This is not the way to cuss in young adult literature. I understand that you want your book to be clean so you come up with the fake cusses. I also understand that this appeals to some, but not me. If you're going to cuss, cuss. If something is so frustrating and induces such strong emotion that you feel obligated to cuss, go for it! Fuck! Damn! Shit! You're such a dickhead! 
Now, I have to admit that the one positive thing going for GLITCH was the fact that I understood what the cusses meant. There are some books that just don't make sense with what they're trying to say. And, again, I know some people like this because this proves to be a fun challenge. To me, it's just annoying.
A Long Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan was put into my Reader's Choice. I picked it up from the library, but unfortunately was unable to finish it before I left for college. I'll check it out again when I get the chance.

But I struggled with the beginning with this one. I was told by a few people it was dense with world-building that would eventually pick up, and I can attest to that. But my main issues was the slang and cusses. They literally took away from the book. I was cringing and re-reading some sentences several times because I just didn't understand. I couldn't figure out what was slang and what was a fake cuss. I didn't understand why they spelled ouch as "owtch" or why a lot of the characters spoke like obnoxious middle school girls making up their own shortened language because they think they're cool.

Off the top of my head, the word "coit" completely comes to mind. I think it's a variation of damn, but I'm not entirely sure.

I just did not grasp anything, and that's another bad thing about fake cusses. While some are annoying just because they suck, some are frustrating because they make absolutely no sense.

I miss this show!
Then there's the easy way out...You want to cuss, you're not creative enough to come up with your own cuss and you don't want to use legitimate cuss words, so you just use "bleep." I'm not going to name names, Paranormalcy Series but this makes your book seem like it was written by a sixth grader. You know, from the age group that was still scared to cuss because they'd get in trouble with mommy. Just stop. Don't go there. Ever.

But, surprisingly, there are some books that handle fake cussing well. And the book that immediately comes to mind is Rogue by Gina Damico.

This is the third book in her Croak series and one of my all-time favorite comedic series. I love Gina to death, and I make sure she knows it.

A continuing theme throughout her novels is a brutally honest portrayal of teenagers. There's cussing, underage drinking, violent thoughts, over-emotional characters, sexual thoughts, relationship struggles. Everything you can think of is here.

And one of the things that she has the most fun with is inventing cusses. On top of the normal plethora of cusses that can be found in her book, she's got creative insults and words that relate to the grim reaper society she has created. "Everdeathing" is the first word that comes to mind. Because of its relation to the characters and the personas that she has given her characters, these words make sense. And they also have you howling with laughter. 

Damico knows how to write the proper cuss word. More authors should take a page from her how-to book when it comes to swearing.

All in all, I'm pro-cussing but anti-fake cusses unless they're understandable and make sense. Death cusses and grim reapers make sense. Re-spelling words for the Hell of it does not. I understand that this is a creative decision made by the author (perhaps with his or her editors' input?), but this is not something that I, as a reader and reviewer, enjoy at all.

In fact, fake cussing is something that I rarely enjoy. I've only ever found three books I enjoyed it in, and they're all in the same trilogy.

And that's why this topic makes me curious. What is your take on fake cussing? Are you against it or for it? Why? Do you have any examples of some nutty cusses that are cringe-worthy or some words that are done well? Share your thoughts! 

And while you're at it, have a fucking good night!

42 comments:

  1. I have to agree with you on this one. I never really thought about swearing in books but what you wrote makes total sense. If the characters are angry enough to cuss, they should actually swear! Great post and thanks for sharing :)

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    1. Right! It is something I have noticed that has frustrated me greatly so I wanted to get a little rant out there!

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  2. I'm actually not sure what I think about swearing in books. I personally don't swear at all, and don't find it a particularly attractive attribute, but I don't mind reading books with swearing. I do agree that made up swear words are irritating, especially when they don't even make sense (which they usually don't) and I'm left to wonder why they didn't just use the real words, since everyone knows that's what we're thinking anyway.

    I've read Glitch and A Long, Long Sleep and the made up words bugged me a lot. I think they drew too much attention to themselves, as can be the case with any unfamiliar word, but that detracts from the overall feeling of the novel if you're so caught up with the swearing instead of why they're swearing.

    Well, those are my thoughts. Great post!

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    1. I totally agree that it's not the best of attributes, but sometimes you just can't help it! haha

      And made up swear words don't make sense 90% of the time. The only time I've seen them make sense was in Damico's CROAK series. And if you're going to insinuate cussing, just cuss!

      Yes! That's exactly it! They drew so much attention to themselves because they were so out of this world that you get distracted by them instead of favoring the novel.

      Thank you for commenting!

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  3. I think that if you are gonna cuss in a book then you need to do it in words that everyone is going to understand! I get that some people don't wanna actually cuss in their books, but if that is the case there are hundreds of thousands of words to use to get the same point across, that everyone knows already. Though I do have to say that fake curses that work with the world building are awesome, cause they pull you in more. And if they make sense... go for it.

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    1. Yes! There is always a way around a cuss instead of outright having to say it! So find a way around it that does not include fake cusses that don't make sense.

      If they make sense (which they rarely do) then by all means.

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  4. Beth Revis uses fake cussing in her Across the Universe trilogy, but I don't think it's to avoid real cussing--I think she wants it to feel less familiar to us since the book is sci-fi. She uses the word frexing, but in moderation, so I think it works.

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    1. Moderation is always greater than abundance, like the words in GLITCH. It eases us into it more and makes us take more time to adjust.

      The unfamiliar is usual with sci-fi. A LONG LONG SLEEP is sci-fi, but part of the reason I had trouble reading it is because the author basically took "cool speaking" from my middle school days (like when we shortened every word we possibly could) and made that the norm. That was hard to get through because I saw no reason to it whatsoever, especially when it seemed education was so much more advanced in the book.

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    2. I was going to make my own comment about Beth Revis then i saw yours.

      I think when she uses frexing it is to put a sci-fi outlook on it. Amy is our century while Elder is in the future so words changed.

      If they use the words and i can understand them then i feel they are okay but if they are made up jumbled words instead of straight out cursing then i will put the book down and walk away.

      Navy Brat

      Ashley
      Books Buying Beauty
      @Bookz4Nerdz

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    3. Yes, ugh, I'd walk away too. Some people enjoy the game of figuring out the meaning behind some cusses. I do not. At all. Ever. Nuh-uh.

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  5. I actually liked the fake curse words in the Across the Universe series (frex), but most of the time I feel the same way as you because I don't always understand these new words. I feel like if the character is angry enough to use those words, they should use the real ones. And yeah, using the word bleep is just immature. :/

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    1. Hey, everyone has their exceptions! I enjoyed them in ROGUE!

      Bleep is just gah! Like, take a page from my elementary schoolbook where I used the word "fudge" as a cuss or something. Just stop.

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  6. I think that fake cussing is alright if there is a reason, like in a lot of books set in the future authors will make their own cuss words because cuss words change over time. It's dependent on the situation.

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    1. Cuss words change over time, but it's done over time. We're coming from the present reading a book about the future...where everything is shoved in our face and leaving us going "wtf?! o.o" At least, that's my take on it!

      Though many things are situational. Wholeheartedly agree with you there!

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  7. Depending on the fake swears, they work. Frexing in ATU, bleeping in Paranormalcy. I love frak from Battlestar Gallactica and Gorram from Firefly. But they need to be true to the story and the characters. The ones you list above do seem incredibly confusing, and thus, distracting.

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    1. They must be true to the story and characters.

      I pointed out in this post that bleeping was really annoying due to the immaturity. Took me back to, like, the 5th grade, but I understand how it's the easiest of ways around it.

      Yes, distracting words. GAH!

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    2. Bleeping is a little immature, but Evie seemed very young so I thought it fit her. I mean, she is fixated on her tv show like no one's business and other young-feeling examples can be found. Plus, Evie kind of adopted it from her friend Lish's use. As an ESL mermaid, Lish's original use of the word seems fairly authentic.

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    3. See, I think she seemed young due to bad characterization (if you want my honest opinion). Though it was an interesting take on the book with Lish, it wasn't for me, you know?

      To each their own!

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  8. Fuck yes! (Sorry, couldn't help myself!) - although I like moderation, just say the damn word already! And I don't mind it if it's a tounge-in-cheek variation like the Croak series, but when it's a completely made up word in a world that isn't that different from the current day world, it irritates me too.

    And bleeping? Seriously?...

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    1. Haha! <3 Perfect way to start this comment!

      The Croak series took cusses and made them relate to their own grimsphere, and then there were just creative insults the way us teens do things. But why make ones up? I don't care if you're in the future, the word fuck has been around for quite a long time.

      Bleeping. For serious. ;) (I don't really saw that, just made sense in the moment)

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  9. OMG I hate the fake swearing too! Like in The Chaos of Stars when she constantly says "Floods" instead of like "Shit". Seriously? ARGH!

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    1. ...that just sounds frustrating. Like, that's not even made up. "Floods" is an actual word. It's a plural noun. What. o.o

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    2. Oh, that word annoyed me too! Floods, I couldn't stand. She also used "Chaos" like that I believe and it took me out.

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  10. Love this post so much. I hate fake swearing. That's weird because I don't even swear that much in person, but in books it's either nonexistent or really awkwardly done. To me, it's about the intent. If you intend to say the word and use another one, why is the placeholder more acceptable than the original? *rolls eyes*

    -P.E. @ The Sirenic Codex
    (P.S., I added your post to BoS, which is a collection of awesome posts around the YA blogosphere)

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    1. Awkward...that's a good way to describe fake swearing. Yes! If you intend to use one word, why use another one? Perfectly stated!

      Ah, that's cool! I've never heard of that, but thank you!

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  11. Most of the time, fake swearing doesn't bother me that much unless it's in a contemporary setting. If it's science fiction, it gets a pass with me. Like Frak from Battlestar Galactica. It's a part of the world building, and I like seeing how words are changed or altered in these new time periods or lands. But for contemporaries, it would seem that making up curse words is just because the author is censoring the reader. Or actually, maybe their character is just really juvenile.

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    1. Very good point! Words do alter over time, but sometimes they're just so distracting. If you fake cuss in a contemporary, it's beyond juvenile.

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  12. This bothers me so much, and as soon as I saw the title of this post I immediately thought of the House of Night series. The authors don't make up curses, they simply use completely childish variations of them. This would be fine if the rest of the books were clean - HOWEVER, there is a blowjob within the first give pages, a sex scene between a student and a teacher and SO MUCH MORE. So why can't Zoey just say "bullshit" instead of "bullpoopy?" AND NO, I AM NOT KIDDING.

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    1. I REMEMBER THAT. My friend bought me like 8 books in that series way before I became a blogger and I remember hating them, I just didn't remember why! Now I remember why haha I also remember none of it made sense. People died and came back to life or something.

      But bullpoopy? Really? When you're having sex? STAWP IT!

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    2. OH MAN, BULLPOOPY. I REMEMBER THIS. *barfs*

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  13. Okay, so, for me, unique slang/swear words are alright as long as they're not just the current swears redone. Like, if they evolved from somewhere and have a somewhat unique meaning, then go for it. Glitch's are the worst ever, because she obviously just changed the existing swear words. Linguistically, why would this happen? I mean, what the fuck would godlam'd mean? WHAT? GODLAMINATED GODLAMBED GODLAMED GODLAMPED? It just sounds like goddamned without BEING goddamned. We see through your stupid shit. NO NO NO.

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    1. Yes, but I'd like to know how they evolved instead of being completely confused by their purpose, you know?

      GLITCH sucks. A lot. Mostly because you can't focus on crap since the swears are so bad.

      bahahaha omg <3

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  14. It does frustrating me when I read a book and in certain situations the person would be cursing and they don't. I think it isn't realistic like you said and that is frustrating to me as well. I too can be a potty mouth so maybe that is why it bothers me I'm not sure. Oh and some of those made up curses are just horrible. lol

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    1. Realism is important! That's why made up cusses are on an entirely different level of horrible than your average cuss today!

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  15. I was afraid this was going to be one of those "swearing is not polite, keep it out of books" post so WHEW. I know we talked about this the first time we talked, but I cuss a LOT IRL. It's a method of expression. It just comes with being me. There are situations where I won't (at work, obviously) but when I'm with friends or family, if I let a curse word out, oh well. They deal.

    Glitch made me SO FUCKING MAD. I can't EVEN. I barely finished it, and if I hadn't been reading an e-book I would have thrown it. The made-up cuss words drove me INSANE because they were in every. fucking. sentence. OMG. Plus I had a ton of other issues with that one.

    OMG there's a book out there that actually USES "bleep?" *dies laughing*

    I DO like made up curses when they're fun and creative and you know what they mean - Battlestar Gactica's "frak," or even Firefly's use of Mandarin because it's provided with context. :D

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

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    1. Bahaha are you fucking kidding me? Swearing should be everywhere necessary. Deal with it, I agree.

      OH MY GOD. GLITCH. JUST STOP. I CAN'T EVEN. SHEWWWWWWWWWWWW

      IT DOES. I CAN'T DEAL WITH BLEEEEEP.

      fun and creative = ROGUE

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  16. Fake curse words are stupid and look childish. I think there are enough milder words to use to get your point across if you don't want to use the stronger words. Don't make up new ones. I don't even like frak, but that might be mainly because I never watched the show and it was WAY overused when it first started.

    There's a message board I visit that doesn't allow the real words so people use things like "chit" and I just laugh at the people who do.

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    1. I don't watch the show either, but most people I know don't mind frak.

      There are mild words that I think should be used over fake cusses, hands down.

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  17. I agree with you completely about "beeping". It just interrupts a story too much! On the other hand, I actually really like books with made up cursing. If done right (I liked Glitch and also the Firefly TV series), I think it can be an interesting part of the world building :)

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    1. I totally respect your opinion. Some people value GLITCH's creativity, while I find it to disrupt the flow of the story. It's all a matter of opinion.

      And ugh, bleeping takes me back to the day I said "fudge" instead of "fuck"

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  18. God, I hate fake curse words! I curse a lot, and writing or reading curse words does not make me uncomfortable. If anything, I like it. It adds realism to the story. And especially if it's a teenager.

    The thing I hate even more, however, is the unfitting curse words. Like, if a character is standing in front of the barrel of a gun and all they manage to say is crap or yikes, I'll be genuinely pissed! I'm a realism cop myself :P

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    1. Omg, if I'm in front of a barrel of a gun I'd piss my pants and beg for my life. Not sit there like "crap." I just want to shake them and be like YOU ARE AN IDIOT.

      Great example!

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