Woe! It’s Wednesday: Words Have Meaning

My friends and family know that I don’t swear. Or at least very rarely. Whenever someone lets an expletive fly in my presence, they often apologize.


I’ve blogged before about language and word choice and I stand by my previous posts. I’ve had a couple of recent experiences though that I want to mention.

At my local Sisters in Crime meeting last week, our guest speaker told a story about when his first book was published, his father read it and expressed dismay at the use of foul language. The author explained that he only put those words into the mouth’s of rough characters in tough situations who would use that kind of language in real life. His dad said he understood, but then went on to say:

“Sure, people talk that way in real life. But those words could offend a reader who will decide they never will read something by you again. And no one ever read a book or watched a movie and said, ‘you know, that book/film needed more bad language. There weren’t enough swear words.’”

The author quit using those words in his books.

We went to see The Lone Ranger yesterday. I’d read reviews that said it was only so-so or not very good, but many Facebook friends said they saw it over the weekend and enjoyed it.

I liked it. Stud Muffin—not so much.

But one thing we agreed on: there was no swearing in that movie at all. And you didn’t miss it! I only noticed it because this subject has been on my mind all weekend after hearing our speaker’s story on Saturday.

I’ve long said using those words is a sign of a lazy writer. It’s easy to use those words. It’s a challenge to convey the emotion behind the words.

Today I had lunch with several writer friends. One of them told a story about her autistic grandson. Somehow, even though he’s closely supervised, he heard some bad words and began to repeat them. Even worse, he began to say them. His school has a Zero Tolerance policy for some words, including the F word. It didn’t take little Johnny long to realize he could get out of school by letting the F words fly.

His parents added consequences and his use of the word tapered off. His various therapies continued.

One day, his dad delivered him to school and was standing nearby observing the kids line up for their walk to the classroom. Johnny stood in line quietly for the first time.


He chatted with another student, a girl.

Wow! A conversation!!

Some other kid busted between Johnny and the girl and hit the girl in the face. The adults chased the kid and were busy with him. Dad stayed with Johnny and the girl.

This autistic boy, who doesn’t like to be touched, put his hand on the girl’s shoulder.

Hey! Physical touch!!

“Are you okay?” he asked her.

Oh, my! Empathy!!

She shook her head. No, she wasn’t okay.

“I’m sorry,” Johnny said.

Whoa! An emotional response!!

Dad was ecstatic. And no one around could see or understand how momentous this was.

Then, Johnny spoke again.

“Do you want me to go f— them up?”

And that’s the moment the teacher returned.

Zero tolerance, remember?

Johnny was out of school for the day.

After such a great exchange and real progress, he got kicked out of school for using that word.

I agree, it’s not fair.

I still don’t like those words, but I’d give Johnny a free pass for the day.