I swear…

Some time ago, an online review site reviewed – quite favourably – The Shadow of Tyr, which was great. However the reviewer also added this:

“I must assume that Ms Larke is a polite and well-spoken woman. She certainly does not know how to curse!” She then gave a little lecture on how to write a curse. She objected to curses more than one syllable long (what about words like “sonovabitch” or that good old English expression “Bloody hell!” There’s actually a stack of multi-syllable expletives when you think about it.)

She also made an assumption that all societies are like hers and follow Eurocentric conventions.

Nope. I have lived 30 plus years in an Asian society. Swearing is frowned upon, regarded as crass, bad-mannered and inappropriately vulgar. That’s if you swear in English. When it comes to swearing in the local language, you run into an even worse barrier – they don’t have swear words.

The most they can manage is a mild equivalent of “damn”. You can call someone a pig, which is pretty bad to a Muslim, or you can say they are “badly taught”, which is also considered a very impolite expression. The idea of using bodily functions and sexual or religious expressions? – nope. (I checked with my husband for this – and he went to an all boys boarding school. One would assume that he’s heard about anything there was to hear.) If they call on God, they mean it. None of this taking the Lord’s name in vain…

Interesting, huh?

And yeah. Hate to disallusion anyone, but when my computer crashes and I am alone in my study, the walls blush.

Ditto when I drop a hammer on my toe in public.


I swear… — 9 Comments

  1. LOL!

    But I know a lot of Asian languages have swear words, so maybe the lack of them is related to the Muslim tradition?

    My daughter goes to a school with a lot of Asian students. At this particular point in time, swearing in Chinese (in class) is very much in vogue. Taught by true blue Chinese nationals to other teenagers. They also swear in Japanese and Korean. Must ask about her Indonesian and Malaysian friends.

  2. Mind you it is very refreshing not to read a book filled with cuss words – mainly just for the sake of it. So please don’t start Glenda. Some books, like one I am reading now, use the f word with boring frequency. Its a good story so leave out the swearing.

  3. If you are writing fantasy you can always make up swear words that sound totally innocuous to us but in the fantasy setting may blister the walls.

  4. Very true, Anne McAffrey’s characters in her dragon books say “Shards” and “By the First Egg” to give one example. But I do get fed up with books which are littered with four letter words just for the sake of it, without adding anything to the writing, the character or the book in general.

    Come to think of it, didn’t Blaise have a few good phrases?

  5. Patty: yes, it could be the Islamic influence. Although I must say that I think all the races in Malaysia – no matter what their religion – appear to swear very little compared to their Western counterparts.

    [I remember when my daughters (aged 11 and 14 at the time) arrived at the International school in Vienna, one of the first things the boys wanted to know was: what are Malaysian swear words? We want to learn them!!]

    Jo – the big problem for mainstream writers is how do you be realistic in certain situations (depicting soldiers, teenagers in rough neighbourhoods, boys mucking around with their friends, etc) and NOT include swearwords? It is a delicate balancing act. TV shows sometimes manage without resorting to the realistic use of vulgarity…but it is tweaking the reality.

    I have to agree, a string of obscenities ends up boring. In fact modern day English swearwords ARE boring and repetitious. Give me a good Shakespearean vulgarity any day.

    Anghara – at the moment I drop all sorts of things because of the ulnar palsy. Very irritating. The other day it was a heavy glass dish on to the top of my bare foot. It hurt so much I don’t even recall what I said. And the dish shattered.

  6. I do understand that in certain situations, swearing gives veracity to the plot or characters, but sometimes it gets very overdone. Most teenagers cannot say anything without injecting the word ‘like’ into a sentence half a dozen times, but authors don’t write that although they write the swearwords, more shock value I suppose, I get just as bored with the swear words as I would if I read ‘like’ all through the conversation.

  7. ow *offers steel toed boots*

    I actually dislike “real” swearwords in a fantasy world. Read a book recently and every time it knocked me out of the world slightly. Seems a pity as well – missed opportunity… swearwords can make a strong statement about the culture/history of a people if thought through enough. Ok so they’re not going to immediately resonate with the reader, but there are other ways to draw them into a world.

    I really love the idea of Muslim/Malaysian swearing tho. A book where a young noble goes pale over being told he’s been badly taught would be great.

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