Profanity in modern literature: The usage of adult language in fiction


Modern novelists have varied opinions when it comes to swearing. Some believe that profanity, if used smartly, can make the character more vivid and relatable. Others stick to the opinion that cursing is inappropriate in most genres.

Using profanity in literature is one of the most debated questions. US academics have found out that the use of the 7 common swearwords has increased by 28 times in 2005-2008 compared to books published in the 1950s. Therefore, the writers increasingly use offensive language. Let’s consider this issue in further detail.

Types of profanity used by fiction authors

Profanity is defined as the use of offensive language to express strong feelings towards something. The original meaning of profanity is using words proscribed by religion as they show disrespect for sacred things or concepts (for example, saying the Lord’s name in vain).

Curses are impolite expressions that show extreme anger. Originally, cursing was meant to call upon a fate to cause harm to someone. Curses are stronger expressions than profanities. Some examples of cursing are: “Damn that car!” or “Go to hell!”

Obscenities mean morally offensive language that is considered taboo in polite usage. They also assume sexually offensive words or something disgusting. The most popular obscene words include the f-word, the c-word used with different prefixes and in various expressions. ‘Screw’ is an example of a softer word.

Vulgar language stands for rude words or phrases that, unlike obscenities, do not relate to sexual offenses and sound milder. Some examples of vulgarisms include: “bitch”, “bastard”, and “ass”.

Fiction writers choose the suitable types of profanity depending on the genre, the character’s personality,
historical period and other factors.

The use of cursing in books for different ages

Authors adapt their use of profane language depending on the age of their target audience. Books written for kindergarten and middle grades students, as a rule, don’t contain cursing. If the writer chooses to use profane or offensive language, they can face complaints from parents and educational institutions.

When it comes to teen books, the situation is different. According to the researchers, teen novels contain 38 uses of profane language. Books intended for young adults often have profanity as well, however, in
many instances writers prefer to use mild language instead of obscenities. Finally, profanity in adult books is not prohibited, so the writer can use it to the extent they deem necessary.

Adult language in different book genres

The usage of adult language also varies in different genres. For example, crime novels and detective stories typically use more profanities than romance novels. In some genres, the use of profane language helps the author create characters that are more realistic. To sum it up, the use of profane language is a way to create expression, show emotions and create a more< believable character. However, it is important that the authors avoid cursing in children’s literature or use obscenities for the sake of it, or because they lack imagination.