As a mother of three, raising two sons and one daughter into adulthood, I grappled with the expected challenges of their developing speech — too loud, too soft, your turn to talk, your turn to listen, let’s find words. As they grew older, words became more complicated, especially during their high school years in The South. I stepped in several times, not with my children, but with their friends. A handful of teenagers (all Caucasian and male) thought it was “cool” (or worse, normal) to drop homophobic, transphobic or racially bigoted comments. Invariably, they were startled when I explained that in my home, hate-speech wasn’t allowed. But they were more surprised by my attitude toward cursing. They expected cussing to be outlawed, a transgression under any circumstance. Instead, I chose a different approach: Curse with care.
Cursing in itself doesn’t offend me, but it carries responsibility. The speaker needs to take into account many factors. The environment needs to be okay with it. All words, including curse words, should serve a productive purpose. Curse words should never be used as weapons — to shock, to offend, to frighten, to intimidate. Curse words carry more risk than other vocabulary, so those specific words need to be chosen with extra care.
Since Anthony Scaramucci’s ten days in President Trump’s inner circle, I’ve been thinking about curse words. As a liberal democrat, I’ve struggled with the values and policies of Donald Trump’s White House since he took office. I wasn’t surprised to find myself appalled by Mr. Scaramucci’s beliefs. But I was quite surprised at how deeply offensive I found his language. My reaction caught me off guard because bluntly: I’m hard to offend with curse words.
Just like there are different styles of speaking, there are different styles of cursing. My problem was not Anthony Scaramucci’s words in themselves. It was the context, the layers, the implications, the undercurrent. He trash-talked people simply because he could, which is a type of bullying behavior. He was provocative for the shock factor, which is a form of using words as weapons. He was pointlessly crude, which is just plain obnoxious.
As a writer, words are my tools of the trade. I consider every sound, inflection, meaning, rhythm, cadence. I include curse words in my writing, but only when they make sense. I think carefully, choosing words that are true to the character and necessary for the integrity of the story.
Words matter. So I try to write and speak with care. And always, to curse with care.
Amy Kaufman Burk is a blogger and author of two novels. Hollywood High: Achieve The Honorable, written in reaction to seeing gay students bullied in high school, follows Caroline Black through tenth grade as her new high school opens her world. Tightwire, Amy’s second novel, continues to follow Caroline, this time as a rookie psych intern treating her first patient — a stormy, brilliant, troubled young man who ran away from the circus to find himself. Amy blogs about a variety of subjects including the resistance, parenting, LGBTQ+ ally support and a Rolling Stones concert. She also collaborates with educators who include her work in their curriculum.
To learn more about Amy’s novels, visit her Author Page on Amazon.