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You know, if there’s anything guaranteed to piss me off, it’s romance readers who get all hoity-toity about the use of profanity in romance books.

A reader at the All About Romance Yahoo Group, recently wrote:

This obviously annoyed the hell out of me, so I had to throw my tuppence in. What? Did you really expect me to do any less? *g*

My reply to her comments were:

Now, I guess the question of how much swearing is too much, is totally subjective, but seriously, how many people have grown up without hearing the odd swear word here and there?

God knows, I don’t expect a girl who was brought up in a convent to use words like twat and cunt, but by the same token I certainly don’t expect an army ranger to substitute the good old F word for something as inane as ‘oh fudge’.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating the use of the F word in every other sentence, (seriously) because that would just be overkill, but for instance, in a situation where the hero, (in a romantic suspense) has just been shot in the arm by a perp who’s trying to kill him, I certainly wouldn’t’t expect him to say “ Oh dear, I’ve been shot”. Would you? Seriously?

I obviously don’t mind swear words in books at all, but they do have to be used in context, and they should gel with the character who’s using them. In other words I don’t expect to read about a little old lady screaming “Drop it mother-fucker!” at the top of her voice. I suspect that that wouldn’t really work.

Most of us are grown-ups, we know the score when it comes to swear words. Some of us swear like sailors, others only cuss in highly stressful situations, whilst there are some people who just wont use profanities at all.

Regardless of your own personal stance on this subject, I would assume that anybody reading romance books wouldn’t be so naïve as to think that swear words have no place in them. That just doesn’t make sense.

Are there really people out there who think it’s ok to use sexual words like cock and pussy, but get offended by the use of the F word?

The F word has been around since the 15th century, and I dare say it will be around as long as man-kind still has the propensity to get annoyed.

What say you?


  • Anne
    April 17
    9:20 pm

    Honestly, I don’t effing know a whole hell of a lot of people who effing swear. LOL

    Seriously.. I don’t think I know ANY people who don’t swear. It’s unrealistic to write a book where the hero and/or heroine don’t swear… why? Because it happens all the time in every day life. Oye.

    What a dumbass. See? I just swore *G*


  • Cassandra Kane
    April 17
    10:23 pm

    What I can’t stand is people who say “potty mouth”. Are we babies or grown women, for fuck’s sake? (note gratuitous use of the F word)

    BTW, I grew up in a convent school and I’ve always sworn like a trooper. I taught my brothers all I know.

    But maybe it’s the generation gap. I’m on a UK romance writers loop where some of the elderly HMB authors are upset about the sex in books (causing one erotica author to leave in a huff), and complain that women in chick lit are too “flighty”. They just don’t get it.

    Most of the time I want to tell them to bloody well wake up and smell the roses, but I restrain myself. Just. Out of respect for their age. Like the well-brought up convent girl that I am. *g*



  • azteclady
    April 17
    10:47 pm

    I guess for me the key would be ‘gratuitous’ swearing vs ‘character/situation apropriate’ swearing. The former yanks me out of the story rather quickly and usually definitely, while the latter simply adds another layer, highlights yet another facet of the character’s personality.

    A few months ago I participated in a rather heated discussion on this topic over Suzanne Brockmann’s “Gone Too Far.” If you are familiar with her “Tall, Dark and Dangerous” series, you may notice that whenever one of the character swears, the reader finds out either from another character’s reaction (“she flinched as he swore” for example), or through simple exposition (“he swore wearily when…”). But in her Ballantine releases for the Troubleshooters, Inc. series, the swearing is part intrinsec of the dialoge -particularly for one Sam/Ringo/Roger Starret. So some of her fans were advocating that she should write all her books under the TTD model, supposedly because the excessive swearing in the Troubleshooters books was offputting. Me, I remain as perplexed today as I was then: the characters in both series are swearing as frequently and as fouly; they are still military men. And, as a personal preference, I rather be shown something than told it happens, so… what the fuck, let them swear!


  • Bailey Stewart
    April 17
    10:55 pm

    I’m the daughter of a WWII army vet – so there isn’t a swear word that I’ve never heard. It only bothers me if its gratuitous – cussing for shock value bothers the hell out of me. I wonder at the age of the complainer, simply by the use of the phrase “potty mouth”. People like that would be offended by any cuss word. There is the Love Inspired series of Christian love stories if she wants no cussing. For me, leave it the fuck alone.


  • Dramedy Girl
    April 18
    12:13 am

    For me the swearing has to be contextual. As long as I believe the character saying it, then it’s okay with me. I bet if you polled those women, the ones who didn’t like swearing and didn’t understand why its so prevalent are 55 and older. I truly believe it’s a generational thing. My mom is not a fan of swearing, but lately I’ve heard her mutter “shit” a few times and all I could think was, “My work here is done!”


  • Rocio
    April 18
    1:18 am

    I hope you read thi Karen!
    Ás alatin who learn her English in school, it was frustrating to realize that I couldn´t understand the shows, movies and real people conversation because school do not teach yu how to swear!!! So I do like the use of idioms, slangs, and swearing in my books because that´s how I learn!!!
    But I do wonder sometimes if you people are talk so harsh while having sex. I don´t mind the swearing unless it is abuse on intimates moments!..Then is a turn off for me!


  • Kristie (J)
    April 18
    1:26 am

    I rarely swear myself, I grew up with 3 girls, my mother wouldn’t tolerate any kind of foul language and my dad respected her for that, so I never really did really learn how to swear. Unless I good and ticked – then I can let loose. But I think a good “fuck” (nope not ticked) in a romance is very acceptable – and at times can induce shivers. Like others have said – as long as it’s not overused, it doesn’t bother me at all. Although I confess – to much of has spoiled many a movie for me. Rain Man is a good example. That would have been an even better movie had they cut half the swearing out of it.


  • Monica
    April 18
    1:34 am

    Yep, that gratuitous swearing bothers the fuck outta me too.


  • maryjanice
    April 18
    2:43 am

    I get that ALL the time. All of my heroes and heroines swear, and the women are usually worse than the men. I’ve lost count of the “why do you choose to swear?” e-mails, the “can’t you tone down Betsy’s potty mouth?” requests, the “don’t you know that swearing just makes you seem unintelligent?” observations. Funny how if you’re offended, I guess it’s all right to be offensive by questioning an author’s I.Q.

    My response is always the same: I “choose” to swear for the same reason Southerners, New Yorkers, and citizens of Great Britain “choose” to drop their R’s: because when I was growing up, that’s how the people around me spoke the language.

    Besides, it’s all a matter of perspective. Skin-popping heroin is a bad habit. Mistaking your kid for an ironing board is a bad habit. A few shits and damns and fucks? Not so much.


  • Stacy~
    April 18
    4:00 am

    My mom is 63 and she swears more than anyone else I know. If she didn’t use “fuck”, “cocksucker” or “bullshit” in every sentence, the woman would never talk – which might be a bit of a blessing LOL(and no, I’m not making this up) So having grown up like that, things like swearing in books doesn’t phase me. It’s everyday language whether we like it or not, but that’s real life.

    It’s not very effective though if overused. (Not counting SB’s Sam Starrett – his language was just so un-bleeping-believably colorful). It gets pretty boring if that’s all someone says. Makes me think the person doesn’t have anything worth saying when that’s ALL they say.


  • Jaynie R
    April 18
    6:31 am

    oh darling – have you read the next couple of comments?

    Actually the one that got me was the one about how “good girls don’t use profanity.”

    damn – I’m so lucky I can IM one of my bitches and swear my ass off when something like that gets posted *g*


  • Erin the Innocent
    April 18
    6:36 am

    in fact Jaynie was just swearing at me in IM right now. I get this random IM with the most colourful language….I blushed and oh for crap saked a few times!

    I’m just shocked *shaking my head*

    Erin the fucking Innocent


  • sybil
    April 18
    7:52 am

    I am not on the loop so have no clue what is going on but as far as the swearing…

    I dislike that shit where they talk about or imply someone said something. Just fucking say it, you are an adult writing for an adult audience. If not then don’t imply it that is just annoying. If you can’t write it, fine don’t. But hey many of the older romance novels do this. So maybe that is why people feel they should return to that.

    They should have kept buying the Trad Regency novels and they would still have those ;).

    The use of potty mouth is something right there. But I am still, to this day, shocked at how conservative romance readers are as a whole. Of course I am as liberal as all get out. So maybe I am not a good person to vote on this topic.

    The need less cussing, less sex or less whatever shit annoys me. People have choices. Make that purchase for yourself and let others make their own.


  • Dawn
    April 18
    9:52 am

    ROFLMAO!!! This is hilarious!

    I like to swear, and frankly it’s a big release to me. Obviously, I try not to swear in front of my little girl, but occasionally I slip up. Particularly when there is some idiot in the car in front of me twatting around.

    I don’t care if there is swearing in books, so long as it is contextual (a word?). I agree that I wouldn’t expect a guy (or anyone who was seriously injured) to say “My gosh, that does rather hurt.”

    Plus, when the fucking receptionist at work keeps ending her tannoy messages with an infuriatingly perky “Thank you”, I have to swear ‘cos it’s the only thing that’s stopping me from going down and stabbing her with my letter opener. :::take deep breaths, Dawn:::


  • Valeen
    April 18
    12:38 pm

    A hero who doesn’t swear when being shot up at … that would cause me to throw the book.

    I have a sailor mouth much to everyone’s disappointment around me. Its so natural to me that I have a hard time taming it when I should be watching my mouth.

    I have a co-worker who is bright, happy and perky almost ALL the time. And she says “oh my goodness” ALL the time. It just doesn’t have the same effect to me. I have a tendency to grind my teeth when I’m talking with her – screaming in my head JUST SAY THE GODDAMN BAD WORD!


  • byrdloves2read
    April 18
    12:50 pm

    As one of those “55 and older” I can’t say I’ve had any problem with swearing in books. When I was growing up I never heard anyone cussing (just sheltered, I guess). However, I have learned how to vent colorfully in the last 30 years or so. 🙂 But I don’t think gratuitous swearing is attractive and I will admit it makes me a little uncomfortable. Just can’t escape my upbringing entirely.


  • azteclady
    April 18
    2:03 pm

    sybil said earlier:
    “I dislike that shit where they talk about or imply someone said something. Just fucking say it, you are an adult writing for an adult audience. If not then don’t imply it that is just annoying.”

    I may be completely wrong but my understanding is that certain lines [like say, Silouhette] do not allow the writers to put the actual cuss words in the text – hence the need to imply the swearing rather than showing it. I find that many authors make it work, but it is a contrivance nonetheless.

    Going back to the argument that swearing is overused and should be cut back… I guess that it’s a matter of personal preference as much as upbringing – I have met a couple of people whose swearing made me uncomfortable (call me crazy but I perceived an underlying meanness in the way they swore); and others (my father included) who literally can’t speak witout swearing but make everyone around them comfortable with it. Innate charm? intent? Who knows for sure?


  • Dakota Cassidy
    April 18
    3:24 pm

    What the FUCK? I mean, holy fricken’ mother fuckers! Jesus effin’! can’t they understand why having a potty mouth is essential to your damned life?

    Beause there are pieces of shit out there who would be dead if we didn’t have an outlet like swearing. If I couldn’t fucking swear, I’d be at the post office right now, picking off some bunch of assholes who pissed me off, ya know? I might nail a couple of shitheads at the grocery store too and while I was on a roll, I’d kick the living shit out of my neighbors.

    It’s just not fucking polite to knock off yer neighbors, ya feel me?

    Get the fuck over it and grow the fuck up.

    Swearing in a romance novel should be the least of your lame ass concerns.


    Seriously. My mother has sworn like once in my life thus far. I didn’t grow up with it much, but I do use it a lot in my writing. It is kinda funny to call someone a motherfucker, versus a jerk. It’s impact and all.

    So screw all of those weenies who live in Cinderella-ville and want some hero to say he has an “owie” when he’s been nailed by a grenade. I say, bring on Motherfucker-land 🙂

    Whew–I’m spent. LOL

    Dakota 🙂


  • Lauren Dane
    April 18
    6:02 pm

    Oh blarg! If anyone’s read my books, you’ll know my characters use profanity. Not all the time, some more than others.

    Personal preferences are what they are. Shrug. But these sweeping generalizations about what “good girls” do or don’t do are just fucking stupid. Heh.

    I write books for adult people. Adult people who like to read graphic sex scenes in their romances. I don’t see “wee wee” (well, actually I do in my most recent book but it’s a joke) so if a big bad werewolf Enforcer is pissed off, he’s going to cuss.

    Anyway, there’s a segment of the romance community that bugs the hell out of me. I avoid them when I can because they tend to say stuff like this, as if they’re making universal statements of truth instead of just being tightassed. But you see, I’m not supposed to say stuff like this in public. Snort.


  • Eve Vaughn
    April 18
    10:59 pm

    It’s all about context. You made a good point, it’s all about context. If I’m reading a story about nuns I don’t expect them to start saying the f word but if I’m reading Alpha males, it’s unrealistic of me to expect there to be no cursing. That doesn’t take my head out of a book. But we all have our pet peeves and little things we can’t stand. There are things that drive me crazy that wouldn’t bother someone else so I guess its all relative.


  • Rosie
    April 19
    3:03 am

    This is another one of those topics that makes me wonder who has the time and inclination to write a post about swearing in romance novels. Sheesh! Get a life and buy a different book…there’s lots to choose from.


  • Wendy
    April 19
    6:16 am

    Who would have guessed you would have thought this way, Karen?


  • Karen Scott
    April 19
    7:58 am

    By Gods, usually I try to address each comment, but quite frankly, I just don’t have the time, except to say I agree with most of your commments, and the issue of context is the most valid argument.

    Dawn, I can totally relate to the perky doll syndrome, a rusty saw would do her the world of good!

    And Wendy, whatever can you mean? *g*


  • Lori
    April 20
    3:31 am

    OMFuckingG! You all have me laughing my Fucking Ass off! Oops!

    It’s a fine line, isn’t it, trying to define where swearing is acceptable and where it isn’t? And trying to pass that on to our kids? In our house we have a swear jar – for every inapropriate use of a swear word, a quarter goes in the jar. The “f” word (you know, FUCK) is a dollar. Once the jar is full, we will donate the money to the local battered women’s shelter. Mom is donating a lot of money *g*. In fact, almost all of it *bg*.

    I do have one word I really hate, and I hate seeing it in my romances. Which sucks, because many of my favorite authors use it regularly. And I have never had a guy use it during sex either. Ok, I’ve only ever been with my mild mannered hubby, who is as polite as can be, but still…

    Swearing is a part of real life. Come on, everybody does it. You know you want to. Just once. I swear, you won’t get caught. Fuck yeah.


  • Desiree Erotique
    April 20
    3:46 pm

    I don’t like to swear, but I’m guilty of doing so often enough. When it comes to a read, though, I prefer the swearing reserved for the most poignant moments. When the F word really gives substance to the point the character is trying to make. Why should a heroine waste a good “C*nt” or “F*ck You” just because Papa John’s is late? Nay, I say RESERVE those for the ideal situation, like when she discovers her EX is dating her Mom.
    Just my 2 cents.
    P.S. I would also be ok with a character using the Sh*t word whenever she’s trying to comment on a blog and the Word Verification box prompts her to write in the same stupid bunch of letters over and over and over…. 😉


  • Jane
    April 21
    5:56 pm

    okay, let me be the fucking voice of reason here. I do not like alot of cursing in my books. I do think that someone who says fuck every other word (ala Sam whatever the fuck his name is in Suzanne Brockman’s fucking debacle of a book “Gone Too Far”) sounds like a total stooge. An appropriately placed expletive is fine. I have to say, though, I do hate it when authors write about a character using a four or five letter expletive because then I have to run a litany of profanities through my head like the book is some kind of fucking crossword puzzle. Shit. Just say it and move on.


  • Sam
    April 21
    6:34 pm

    The word that kills me in a romance book is ‘darling’. I see that and I just get pulled out of the story. I mean, who the Hell says that?
    Everyone swears. It’s normal. But, “Darling, pass me the chili peppers” and I close the book.


  • azteclady
    April 21
    10:04 pm

    Sam, I had the same reaction to ‘darling’ until I started reading JDRobb’s “In Death” books – Roarke can call me darling any time he feels like it and I’ll melt. *chuckling*

    Other than him, though, the only person I’ve heard pull it off is Blake Edwards during his and Julie Andrew’s commentary of Victor/Victoria.


  • Barbara Bell
    April 22
    5:14 pm

    Sam, I’m with you on darling. Who says darling? Another word I hate is sweetheart. I cringe when I read it. I don’t know why but I fucking hate it.

    Back to the cursing. Cursing in a romance doesn’t bother me in the slightest. What bothers me is mediocre writing, which is as least as prevalent as profanity.


  • Karen Scott
    April 22
    5:40 pm

    Barbara wrote: “What bothers me is mediocre writing, which is as least as prevalent as profanity.

    Sorry, this made me nearly pee myself laughing, too true, too true!!


  • M.E Ellis
    May 4
    8:29 am

    Not bothered about the swear words, but ‘sweetie’ drives me nuts. I’ve even put it in my latest WIP to test myself and see if it will stay there by the final draft or whether I’ll scrap it out of pure bugness.



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