Writers Overuse Expletives

Use Fleshy Words Instead

By Annette Rey

There was a time when using an expletive lent drama and shock to a piece of writing. The script for the movie Gone With the Wind shocked the audience when Rhett Butler said to Scarlett O’Hara, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Inclusion of the word damn was much debated, but the filmmakers decided to let it remain in the dialogue. In that era (1939), this word was explosive on film and powerful in the context of the scene. Since words such as those were rarely heard in broadcasting, the use of it had large impact on the listening viewers.

How writing has changed!

Now the pendulum has swung the opposite direction, and foul words are over-used and f‑bombs are beaten to death in our ears. It is my opinion that a very good writer should exercise his brain to forego such words and prove his ability to express anger and dismay and other emotions in more creative and descriptive ways.

There will be objections to this opinion and I will agree with a few of them. A particular character may be prone to using foul exclamations. That is acceptable. But sprinkle such words; do not flood your reader with them to distraction. If you overcome your reader with such words, then those words become the focus and actually become boring and mundane and lose their intended emphasis. As in the 1930s, the very least use of an expletive has the very most impact.

That truth has not changed.

I tire of seeing the f-bomb. As a writer, you can strive to sound more educated and search our language to impart your characters’ feelings with more powerful words than those.

“My mind cried out in disbelief and grief, my heart so heavy in my chest that my back bent forward with the weight of it. My inner self poured forth on the sidewalk when I heard of my daughter’s death. Life stopped for me in that moment.”

The above paragraph is my attempt to supplant curse words at a dramatic moment. I used inner emotion, physical description, psychological attitude. You can add salty taste, throat spasms, inability to speak, sweating, stomach cramps, or paralyzing shutdown, blankness. There are so many approaches and so many words to choose from to eliminate curse words.

The description of a human’s feelings in my sample paragraph is more gripping than using trite four-letter words. I can punctuate my writing by pulling words from the English language that color my work with dismal grays and harsh blacks and vivid blues and stark whites and passionate purples, and horrific clashing, deafening assaults to the ears of my readers. Among the four-letter words that interest me are help! and save him!

Prove to your readers that you strive to be a more figurative writer for his exciting reading experience. Swing the pendulum the opposite direction from today’s deluge of foul common words. Search out the more uncommon and elevate your writing above the mass output of overused expletives.

Here’s a challenge for you. Go an entire month without speaking or writing any type of curse word. Do not utter shorthand expletives to express your feelings or to reveal what you are thinking. Your brain will be forced to search the language, to work harder, to learn a better way to use the language for purposes of communication. Then review your work. Study your feelings of not using such words verbally. What do you have to lose but some rotting four-letter-word baggage that is lessening your ability to communicate strikingly intense emotion?

Your character is faced with a decision, a choice, and you must display his emotions to your reader.

Here is another effort of mine:

“Scarlet anger matched the color of my face. My teeth ground bits of my tongue as I grasped the twisted piece of iron, rallying to defend myself. Now I became his stalker. Silent. Waiting.”

Don’t those words draw the reader into your character’s emotions and relate more gripping action that his tritely saying, “What the ­­­­­­­­____?”

Purposely explore the flexible, versatile, abundant language we have the pleasure of splashing before our readers’ faces. Stun them with real, jack, cued, mash acts.

Hmmm, those are all four letter words.

Interesting, that!



One thought on “Writers Overuse Expletives

  1. This is a great point, Annette. There’s a reason why this type of language is called ‘vulgar’- i.e. lacking sophistication or good taste (so says the online dictionary 🙂 ) I like your examples of using better writing in its place. Can there be a time or place in a story where profanity can fit? Yes, but it’s awfully easy for it to become a crutch. (Not to mention it’s getting harder to be sure that books for my oldest are ‘clean’ without pre-reading.)

    Liked by 1 person

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