Posted by on Dec 3, 2013 in Uncategorized | 3 comments

Occasionally, down at the Spry offices, we’ll receive submissions with flippant use of curse words or sexually-explicit language. We’ve even published some pieces containing these “vulgarities.”

Some people think the use of this kind of language shows a lack of subtly and creativity. Think of the beautiful turns of phrase in Lolita that, after a moment’s contemplation, are actually quite disturbing. The shock of vulgarity pales in comparison with the slow burn of subtly. Avoiding obvious and vulgar language and imagery takes artistry and ultimately leaves a stronger impact than lazy vulgar writing.

But others say, fuck that. The use of vulgarities comes down to a matter of honesty and censorship. Euphemisms are prudish and disingenuous. Censoring and sugarcoating raw humanity, the good and bad, only deepens insecurity and prejudice. Ugly things should be ugly! And sometimes things label “vulgar” are not ugly at all. Intense emotions or sexuality are beautifully honest and real, so why not use the vulgate language of the people?

At Spry, we tend to fall somewhere in between the two arguments. We don’t want to censor real human emotions, but a touch of class can go a long way. But what about you? How do you feel about curses and vulgarities in literature?

Mark-Anthony Lewis

Mark-Anthony Lewis enjoys reading stories as much as telling them. He also likes Awful Awfuls and pumpkin whoopee pies. You might like his blog. Check it out.


  1. I swear a lot–a LOT–in real life, but curiously little on the page, even when characters are doing huge lines of coke or lamenting the essential imcomprehensibility of something really important. So I guess I come down more on the prudish side, which surprises me. And everyone I know.

  2. While I’m not a fan of vulgar language and try to keep it out of my everyday speak, I do see the need for it, albeit sparingly, in writing. It just lends such authenticity to certain characters in certain situations. For example, a gang-banger ain’t gonna shucks-it-up, they’re gonna fuck it up. A big burly angry guy is going to curse and so is a whore who’s being arrested, as is a bunch of teen-aged kids hanging out. I could go on, but you get my point.

  3. You make a good point: to remain true to a character, sometimes cursing and vulgar language are necessary. But to counter that, think of movies like the Godfather or the Maltese Falcon versus modern crime and gangster movies. Relatively speaking, they’re almost devoid of cursing, violence and sex, but they’re still able to remain true to the gangsters and lowlifes that are featured in their stories.

    Maybe it’s just the time period—I wasn’t alive back then to know how much the common person cursed (or what qualified for a curse word then)—but I’d assume there have always been those who engage in “sailor talk.”

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