Swearing and social media – is it professional?

S is for swearing and social media.

So many blog posts have been given to the topic of swearing in YA books – when is it appropriate? Should we do it? Can certain words be in MG books?

But what about casual swearing on Twitter? Or in blog posts?

As an editor, an agent, an author, a writer – is it professional?

I don’t naturally cuss at all. Expressions like ‘oh my gosh’ and ‘darn’ left my vocabulary when my 2 year old started repeating me. Some words just don’t sound right coming from the mouths of preschoolers. Ya know?

I write both MG and YA, so I don’t swear on Twitter, FB, Goodreads, or my blog. It wouldn’t make sense. For me, it’s unprofessional.

But what about the writer who writes older YA? Or the industry professional for whom swearing is as easy as eating that sixth chocolate chip cookie? Or the writer who writes gritty adult novels and their targeted readers probably swear?

We all know to stay away from politics and religion. But what about profanity?

You tell me. Where do we draw the line between being ourselves in social media and being professional? Especially when we hope to be considered a professional some day. (Please keep the comments clean. Thanks.)

46 Responses to Swearing and social media – is it professional?

  1. anne gallagher April 22, 2011 at 10:50 am #

    I have always thought, if it’s appropriate for the characters, swearing in books is okay, if it’s not gratuitious or overly done.

    I have seen bloggers use it, I have used it on Blogger, but only when trying to make a point.

    I don’t know anything about Twitter or FB, I’m not on either, so I can’t say.

    I think if we’re all adults, it shouldn’t matter. But I wouldn’t use it in a query letter.

  2. Kris April 22, 2011 at 11:00 am #

    Commenting on my phone, I hope it works. I’m not someone who usually swears either so I’m not really comfortable with doing it. I don’t mind reading it as long as its not gratuitous.

  3. Jennifer Shirk April 22, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    Well…I’m NOT for swearing in a YA book.
    I don’t know. Some of the publishers recommend those books to 12 and up. To me, 12 is YOUNG!
    I wouldn’t a child to be exposed to language like that even if he or she might hear it other places.

  4. Jessica Bell April 22, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    I actually don’t find swearing offensive at all. Unless someone is deliberately going about swearing AT someone in a derogatory manner. I swear. Not A LOT, but when a ‘gee’, or a ‘damn’ don’t suffice, I bring out the biggr guys and I’m not ashamed of it. I don’t think it makes me sound unprofessional. I’m just human. And I think authors nowadays are a lot MORE HUMAN due to being on social media. Every tom dick and harry gets to know our bowel movements, if ya know what I mean. :o)

    • Laura April 22, 2011 at 11:10 am #

      Anne – It’s not professional for me, b/c of the age group I write for.

      Kris – That makes sense. As long as it fits the topic.

      Jennifer – I can give you a little perspective. My daughter is 12 and she reads adult and upper YA. Thankfully she likes more literary YA, so she stays away from a lot of the sex. She’s an advanced reader and more mature for her age. I have to say, it has not affected her negatively. But I couldn’t stop her from maturing and I’d rather know what she’s reading then have her read it behind my back!

      Jessica – You have a point – we are human. And Twitter is all about showing our human side. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Laura Marcella April 22, 2011 at 11:17 am #

    I think that no matter what genre you write, even if you’ve used profanity in your story, cursing is unprofessional in the real world. I don’t curse anyway, so it’s easy for me to avoid it with social media.

  6. mooderino April 22, 2011 at 11:20 am #

    I think we all have the common sense to speak differently to grandma than we do to Dave in the bar. Online is the saem sort of thing. I wouldn’t swear on your blog, because I don’t think you’d like it. I swear on mine all the time. Peopel shoudl use their judgement ratehr than obey some kind of universal rule, becasue judgement, like any muscle, gets flabby if you don’t use it.

    • Laura April 22, 2011 at 11:37 am #

      Thanks for sharing. So, it comes down to the person, their style, what their blog is like – and if swearing is a part of that then it’s okay. I get that. I’m not sure I totally agree, but I certainly don’t judge people that do swear on social media. 🙂

  7. Susan Kaye Quinn April 22, 2011 at 12:09 pm #

    I’m with you on swearing not being professional. I would never swear at the office (when I was working). And even mild swear words in MG are a red flag for me. But YA? I know there’s a lot more controversy there. I’ve had characters in my YA novel that swore (mildly, but then they were sailors!), and ones that didn’t. I don’t think you have to have it, but what’s acceptable for your characters to do and what’s acceptable for you to do – two COMPLETELY different things, yeah?

  8. Marisa April 22, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    Haha, my kids say darn and oh my gosh because they used to copy me and say the other versions… but I didn’t think THAT was right.

    It’s hard, I think, because people have different definitions of swearing. I didn’t realize the d-word was a cuss word until someone mentioned it to me recently. For me, I don’t mind swearing in books as long as it fits the character/story. But in social media, I’m not a fan of people tossing around the f-word or the sh-word just because they can. Very unprofessional.

  9. Stina Lindenblatt April 22, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    I write for the 14 year old + crowd, and there’s swearing in my books (more so in my current one). But it’s not overdone, and it’s there for a reason. It’s authentic to who my characters are (though not all of them swear).

    My 11 yo swears (much to my dismay). Some words he got from me (I didn’t know they were swear words until he told me), and some he got from his peers. We’re trying to stop him, but that’s not happening.

    Will I swear on social media? No. That’s not professional, and it actually turns me off when others do it.

  10. Jessica R. Patch April 22, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

    I’ve read novels where every other word is a swear word and all I can think is, “Man, they used up so much of their word count! Shame.” 🙂 I personally think using foul language all throughout blogs, tweets, and facebook is unprofessional. My daughter is 12 and she just finished a YA book. AFTER the fact, she tells me the main character dropped the F bomb–but it was only once. Once doesn’t make it ok in my opinion. Certainly not in YA.

  11. Creepy Query Girl April 22, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

    As you said, I think it can be unprofessional- depending on the profession. I’m a pretty clean cut kinda girl with a ‘let your concience be your guide’ attitude. That said, I have two ways of feeling a little rebellious. One is sneaking a cigarette every now and then when I’m alone. Very james dean. The other is using vulgarity every once in awhile. (okay maybe more than once in awhile) I don’t think I’ve ever dropped the ‘f’bomb on my blog but I have used lesser swear words…because that’s how I talk. I think some swear words can lighten or darken tone depending on how they’re used and definitely convey humor (which is what I mostly use them for). I write upper YA and my characters swear because…that’s just how I hear them talking -plus sixteen and seventeen year olds swear. It’s a reality and I like to keep it real. If I were targeting a certain group of teens, writing christian fiction or writing for a younger audience, I might sensor more- not because I don’t approve of swearing (I do. Actually swearing can be an artform in and of itself), but because the people in my story probably wouldn’t be using vulgarity.

  12. Angela Felsted April 22, 2011 at 2:01 pm #

    I’d like to think a good writer doesn’t have to stay away from politics and religion. Certainly, I’ve read plenty of YA books that don’t. Anyway, I digress.

    I think sometimes, in an older YA book, where a character would normally swear. It’s okay to swear.

  13. Joyce April 22, 2011 at 2:09 pm #

    WTF! Swearing, if done right and is not gratuitous, can be meaningful.

  14. Shelley Batt April 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    Honestly, when I read it on a blog it shocks me and is a turn off depending on what is said. I guess it doesn’t seem professional to me. I, too, am a writer MG/YA. If a character needs to say it, I don’t have a problem but I’m not seeking out ways to write it.

  15. Susan Sipal April 22, 2011 at 2:35 pm #

    Like many here, I’m not much of a swearer personally, so I naturally wouldn’t use it on my blogs, Twitter, etc. But in my stories, I would use it if it is true to the character and situation. I write YA and adult, so I think that’s appropriate. Working in a school, I hear A LOT worse than what I would ever write.

  16. Kellie April 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    Personally, I try to lean away from swearing in any sort of social media. I swear at times when I’m speaking, but not too often, but I won’t do it in any permanent form, if that makes any sense.

    As for swearing in YA books… I don’t think it hurts a book to avoid swearing. You never know when a younger, avid reader is going to pick up a book above their supposed reading level. BUT, if your going to have characters make up swear words or use silly words in their place, then it’s usually better to just suck it up and SWEAR!

    • Laura April 22, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

      I’ve been gone most of the morning but thanks everyone for giving your opinion. I have an answer for me. And I think everyone needs to find their own answer. I’ll go out on a limb to say that it’s more unprofessional to rant about agents/editors/book reviewers on a blog or Twitter than it is to swear. Anyone?

  17. Benoit Lelievre April 22, 2011 at 3:18 pm #

    I think it all depends what you do, and what you’re trying to achieve. I write noir and I comment pop culture. I don’t see the downside to using the “F” bomb from times to times in order to stress my point or to incorporate in a character’s dialog. I take for granted my audience knows what they’re in for, are adult and open minded.

    That said, there are some degrees of swearing. I try to not say the “C” swear world or the one that implied incestuous relationship with one’s mother. I have a limited vocabulary, but not THAT limited.

  18. Elena April 22, 2011 at 3:22 pm #

    I view it the same way I would view an email at my “real job”. I wouldn’t swear at a client, so I would be very unlikely to do it on any social platform as a writer.

  19. Botanist April 22, 2011 at 4:33 pm #

    Many comments here have noted the use of judgement: you talk differently to your grandmother than you would to a drinking mate in the bar. And there’s a world of difference between what I would say, and what I have my characters say. Just like my characters (some of them) go around killing people…whole planets even…but would I do that?

    Back to judgement and context. When I talk on my blog, or comment on others, I regard it the same as if I were to walk into a writers’ convention. I’m trying to show myself in a professional manner. So, ask yourself, would you use profanity in that context?

  20. Carolina Valdez Miller April 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm #

    I tend to swerve towards not having profanity, which is really hard because I do write for older YA, and often with darker themes. I do have some profanity in my writing, but I am very careful not to overdo it and I slave over each and every one, making sure it’s essential and a natural part of the character’s dialogue and the scene. It has to make sense.

    Online, I’m even more careful. I do imply profanity, but I try not to actually use it, not the harder stuff anyway (although I have used milder expletives for effect). I don’t write MG, though, so maybe it’s more acceptable. But just like in my writing, it has to make sense.

  21. Patti Mallett April 22, 2011 at 5:22 pm #

    Great post and comments. I was thinking early how much I enjoy your posts, Laura. Knowing how we feel about what we write is so important. We don’t want to write by accident. And we want every word to have meaning and to move the story along. Although I would never want to be a bad influence on kids, I think kids can handle more than we sometimes give them credit for. They hear way more than parents ever want to believe, and then they make CHOICES about how they are going to talk and what they are going to do. Isn’t that what life is? Kids are taught how to act by adults and then they decide how they are going to live. This said, I think it’s much more difficult to get a story told without using vulgarity and sex. In my opinion they are often the lazy way out. To get a character/story across in other ways is much more challenging, to use nuance instead of foul language, for instance. To write sexual tension instead of sex. Every comment on here made sense. I loved the honesty. As young adult writers, I’d bet the farm that every one of us wants to say things that help the reader navigate his or her life. Some of those readers will be uncomfortable with swearing. Others won’t be comfortable unless it’s included. This is an important topic, one that even as we give our opinions, many of us aren’t completely certain how we feel on the subject. (Politics and religion are subjects for another day.)

  22. Lydia K April 22, 2011 at 5:31 pm #

    After posting about this, I think I’ve decided on allowing swearing, but only in the circumstances that really need it. There are some times when it seems unavoidable, especially in older YA.

  23. Patti Mallett April 22, 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    I forgot to add this: Last week I watched the movie “Friday Night Lights” with Billy Bob Thornton. (I think that’s his last name.) He’s the coach and in one of the most frustrating moments (of losing the game, the stakes are incredibly high, the other team is playing dirty, the refs aren’t seeing this or don’t care, it’s getting dangerous to the boys as there is injury and one “dirty” hit after another. After one too many of these things, the coach is going out of the field in total frustration and he yells,
    “Great Grandma’s Drawers!!!” Honestly, I couldn’t believe it, played it back to be sure of what I’d just heard. Then I laughed my head off. It was too perfect! It was genius!

    But, if we hadn’t been set up by the right tension, it would probably have gone unnoticed.

  24. Margo April 22, 2011 at 5:40 pm #

    I visit a couple blogs where there is occasional swearing; I recognize that these writers author gritty YA. I certainly wouldn’t call them unprofessional as long as they are on their own turf. But if one of them guest-blogged on, say, Shannon Messenger’s blog, or mine, it WOULD be unprofessional. You’re not on your own turf anymore and you have to respect other people’s turf. I ask people to not swear in my home, but I won’t ask them to stop if we are visiting their home.

    It’s also important to consider that if you go with such an approach on your own turf, you are going to both narrow AND focus your audience, there’s both negative and positive outcomes to that.

    Great topic of discussion! Interesting reading other comments up there.

    • Laura April 22, 2011 at 5:52 pm #

      Thanks everyone! So much wisdom. And a great discussion.

  25. Julie Musil April 22, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

    In my humble opinion, and remember, I called myself the church lady, I don’t think swearing is professional for anyone! When I read a tweet or a blog post with swear words, I cringe. If I read it in a book, it doesn’t bother me, as long as it’s within the character. That’s just me. “Now isn’t that special?”

  26. Amanda H. April 22, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    Very interesting discussion. I’m not one to swear IRL, and I write for MG (and YA) so my blogs and tweets are pretty innocent. I may imply from time to time, but it’s just not me. Having said that, I don’t mind if others do (and this may sound strange given the topic)in good taste. Meaning, I’m a sucker for the funny stuff.

  27. Rafael April 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    I usually don’t do it, at least on Tweeter and FB, but I am not easily offended by it. On my blog, well, I swear as much (or as little) as I see fit. Censoring myself is a detriment to my blog and my readers.

    I do avoid swearing in the comment section of other blogs. No need to disrespect someone else turf.

  28. Katie April 22, 2011 at 7:26 pm #

    I don’t normally swear in day-to-day life, but I especially watch my language online, for one important reason: as an author and an actor in search of representation, every post and every tweet is like a job interview. If an agent is considering me, I want to be able to show them my Twitter and my blog without worrying about what they’ll see.

  29. Ghenet Myrthil April 22, 2011 at 8:49 pm #

    Swearing doesn’t come naturally to me either. I’m writing a YA novel and my main character swears a couple of times when she gets really upset. I think it’s fine in YA as long as it fits the character and situation.

    As for social media, I wouldn’t curse myself but as long as it wasn’t every other word, it wouldn’t bother me to read it on other people’s blogs/twitter feeds. But I agree with you – if you write for young audiences, you should probably avoid it.

    A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about first drafts and quoted Anne Lamott. In her book BIRD BY BIRD, she calls them $hi*ty first drafts (but spelled normally). I felt weird about spelling it normally on my blog so I spelled it like I just wrote here.

    Intersting discussion!

  30. Ansha Kotyk April 22, 2011 at 9:16 pm #

    I have an interesting take on this.
    First let me say I think if you want to be taken seriously/professionally than the use of profanity should be used with a light hand.
    That being said, I think the use of swears and the meaning/weight of them is regional. I grew up in New Jersey. The F-bomb was as common as any other adjective or noun or verb (f@#$ gets around) ;).
    Using the F word was so common in NJ vernacular that it lost most of its weight. When I moved to PA for college, I found it was still a heavy word, and so I used it less often.
    Later when I began working in the corporate world I found that when I traveled to Minnesota using even a euphemism for a curse word could catch you some slack. But in the corporate environment in NJ managers easily dropped the f-bomb in casual conversation.
    So with my love of words I found and continue to find word usage fascinating.
    As for your original question, is it professional? The internet makes our working environment more fluid than regional and so in my mind it’s best to avoid offending someone you hope to work with in the future. Besides, we’re writers, we know LOTS of words we could use instead.

  31. Joy April 23, 2011 at 12:17 am #

    To my mind, cursing without a reason is just crass. I’m not sure that I would want my 9 y/o reading books where people are swearing left and right (and is able to comprehend books above what his reading level is supposed to be). Kids are impressionable and live what they learn. I can’t shield mine forever, but for now I like keeping his reading material clean.

    In terms of my tweets and Fb, I wouldn’t swear either. You never know who’s watching and since I don’t enjoy reading profanity on other people’s blog, out of respect, I wouldn’t subject my readers to anything like that on mine.

  32. Heather Sunseri April 23, 2011 at 12:18 am #

    Great conversation going on here, Laura. My daughter is 11, and I can’t read fast enough to keep up with her. I’m not excited about some of the profanity and other mature themes she is exposed to in books sometimes, but it does allow us to have conversations about how our worldview is often different from authors and characters of some of the books she reads. Such is life, right? Our worldview is also often different from what she is exposed to in school everyday. So we talk about how to handle that by talking about books and real life situations. They’re not always that much different. So, while my daughter and I frown upon the use of profanity, we know it happens, so we must learn to deal with it.

    I try to write characters that I would come into contact with in real life. And, unfortuantely, that includes an occasional swear word, even among teens.

  33. Jenny Lundquist April 23, 2011 at 2:40 am #

    For MG I would say definitely no swearing whatsoever. My editor had me take stuff that even I thought was fine out to make it more innocent–I can only imagine what she would’ve said if I’d slipped in a word or two. But if you think you really need swearing, and you write MG fantasy, you can just make up your own bad words and use them, contextually, the same way you would a curse word. Merlin’s beard!!!!

    As far as social media goes, I agree with some of the other commenters that it’s sort of like a job interview, and not professional.

  34. Donna Weaver April 23, 2011 at 2:59 am #

    I’m not fond of swearing, but I’m also realistic that plenty of people (and even more young people) do it. They drop F bombs like they’re filler words. The R rated F word tends to become invisible to them because they use it so often. I’ve got kids who love to use it.

    What they don’t understand is that for many people hearing the word is like being struck. It’s aggressive and in many ways a form of verbal assault, yet they don’t even realize they’re saying it.

    My biggest concern is more about the lack of interest in broadening their vocabulary (goes in line with all the netspeak online and in text messaging).

    Maybe that’s why I always loved “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”

    Bodacious, dude!

  35. angela ackerman April 23, 2011 at 3:02 am #

    I will admit that when I see cussing in social media (other than a hell or damn perhaps) it makes me uncomfortable, and makes me wonder if I know the writer as much as I thought I did. And F bombs? IMO, professionalism and f bombs do not go together.

    Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse

  36. Jami Gold April 23, 2011 at 5:56 am #

    Great topic! I don’t swear, but my characters sometimes do. So there are curse words in my stories (adult), but I generally avoid them on my blog and Twitter. As a commenter above mentioned, on my blog, I “modified” the quote about sh***y first drafts – probably close to how I did it here. I don’t think it’s professional.

  37. Ryan April 23, 2011 at 9:23 pm #

    I think that on facebook and twitter you have to be a little more reserved since you never know who might be reading it. To me it’s kind of like the difference between saying “sh*t” quietly when they’re out of something on your list in a crowded grocery store and screaming it at the top of your lungs.

  38. Lynda R Young April 23, 2011 at 9:47 pm #

    I don’t swear (or try my best not to) and I try to avoid swear words in my YA books.

  39. Irene Vernardis April 23, 2011 at 11:34 pm #

    Hi. I think it depends to whom you’re talking and how one uses a word.
    I agree that it’s not professional to use publicly and especially since everything on the internet is in written form and as such “carved in stone”.

    As for characters, well, most people curse, so eliminating everything from a book, especially regarding some characters then it’s not real.

    You can’t have sailors who don’t curse, or gang members, it’s unreal. And readers want “real” characters otherwise they can’t identify with them. Also it depends on the circumstances. For example, a character witnesses the murder or torture of a beloved person. I think that even the most pious church lady could invoke the worst dock vocabulary in that situation and be justified for that.

    So everything is relative. As for YA (which for me is a misplaced genre, since by definition young adults does not include 12 year olds), cursing is the least wrong in those books. There are more serious issues in YA books.

    Thank you for an interesting post and discussion 🙂

  40. wayne April 24, 2011 at 12:52 am #

    I avoid swearing and rants. I work with stained glass, so it does not have dialogue though at times it can give me a good poke, at which time I may swear at it ;’)

  41. Karen Strong April 24, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

    Hmmm…I don’t mind so much the swearing in YA, but for some reason when I actually hear a YA author swear, I feel sort of weird?

    Is that weird? IDK.

  42. Dawn April 27, 2011 at 8:40 pm #

    Good question. I don’t like swear words myself. I think it is unprofessional on blogs.

    In some books, it might be necessary for a particular character to curse, but it really should be used sparingly. Or instead of saying the actually word, say, “He cursed.”

    The Write Soil

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