Blogger Thoughts: Swearing in YA

WARNING: As you can guess from the title of this post, there will be swear-words in this post. Lots of them.  If that type of thing makes you an unhappy bunny then you’ve been warned.
Not long ago at a YA book group at Bluewater, there was an off-topic discussion about swearing in YA and what we thought about it.  Should it be there? Should it be censored?  Do you even care?

It’s a subject that is often pondered on by readers, reviewers, publishers, authors and the like.  Why isn’t there more swearing in YA books?
Let’s face it, in today’s society, you can’t walk down any high street or get on any train without hearing a swear-word of some variety.  It may be from the flushed communter who’s spilt their coffee, the older gent that drops his glasses on the floor, the rowdy teens trying to act cool and mouthing-off or even the small child that’s mirroring the rude words and laughing.  People swear.  I swear LOADS!  My Mum still tells me off for doing it too much.  Though when I read a more-than-average amount of YA I rarely see a shit, fuck or bloody hell.  Why is this?  WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON?
I understand that, when talking to a younger generation, actively encouraging bad language is a no-no.  You don’t want people to swear but they’ll hear it one way or another.  Swear-words are now ingrained in the English language and you can’t exist without hearing them even if you choose not to say them.  You’ve only got to look at Shakespeare and Chaucer to see swear-words scattered about and these are texts that “young people” are encouraged to read and study at school and university!  How can we have one rule for these writers and another for all the rest?
I read an excellent post from James Dawson about the issue of swearing in teen books and how it’s not authors or even publishers that censor the language, but the fact remains that you won’t get a book stocked in selected shops if they know it’s in there.  They can’t be seen to side with that tone of words.  I understand the thinking behind it but it’s flawed logic.  It would be like saying, we can’t talk about sex education in schools because it’ll mean kids will want to then go out and have sex.  Teenagers will do worse things than consider sex as an activity and by having it out there in the open to talk about makes it less of a taboo.
If we keep the swears in and they are used correctly, effectively and are appropriate for the character, plot and situation then, why the fuck not?  In my mind, a book is meant to reflect real-life or at least a reality that we, as a reader, can connect with.  So, are we not selling readers short by cutting the naughty language?  Are we dumbing-down and being patronising if we say “oh shoot” instead of shit?
We give power to things by ignoring them and if we don’t teach a generation how to use these words in a correct fashion and in a way that doesn’t glue together every other word in their sentences, then how are we expecting them to learn at all?
One of the best examples of all this woo-ha is from the film Kick Ass.  It has an 18 rating so limits the audience considerably but in all the graphic violence and gore the biggest uproar about that film was having the young actress in the movie use the C-word!  This character had just slain a room full of people in a horrific manner, and enjoyed it, and then hearing her use the C-word is your biggest issue? Really?
I don’t want to get into the issue of “that word” right now because that’s a broader issue altogether and not something I think I fully know the ins-and-outs of to make an informed opinion.  However, my point is: Are we really going to let language hold a power over use to the extend that we exclude it all together.
Teenagers swear.  They do it a lot.  To friends and strangers.  To parents and other elders.  When they’re happy, angry and sad.  If we censor swear words from YA, we are just giving them more power as a taboo and adding fuel to the fire.  Kids know how to swear and will do it if it’s Harry Potter they hear doing it or Mummy.
Give YA back their fucking swear words.
I’m not an expert on the subject and don’t know all the angles for the argument so if you have something to share then please leave a comment.

13 Comments

  1. Teenagers have the worst language out of everyone! They're not learning it from books so I don't see why retailers have such a problem with it. I bet they sell films with swearing in and everyone knows the certificates don't stop younger people from watching them. I don't think books need to go overboard with the swearing but I'm always happy when YA acknowledges that teenagers swear.

  2. This is a fantastic post! I did a similar one a few months ago and honestly, I don't like swearing personally but, sometimes it has to be in a book to make it more realistic. "Oh, no" really doesn't do it in most situations! If it's not over-used or put there to try and sound 'cool' then all's good!

  3. I'm getting worse with swearing as I get older but honestly I hate it when I hear people just dropping the 'f' bomb or whatever when I'm at the bookshop or even just in public. If you swear then that's fine but it's annoying when people go to the extent of shouting it out for the world to hear!

    I don't think it's a case of, teenagers swear anyway so lets stick it in a book, if it fits a characters personality or the book then it's fine with me. I do however hate the 'c' word and the 't' word and even tell everyone off for using them! haha!

    Good post Laura

  4. I love this post! I was thinking about this issue yesterday as I finished reading Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist on Friday, which has a lot of swearing in it. The word 'fuck' appears a lot, sometimes several times a page, and I thought it was perfectly normal, but I've read several reviews since by people who find it really offensive. Personally, if I was offended by swearing, I'd give it a one line mention in my review. But it's almost all these reviewers talk about! They don't write about the characters or the plot, just the swearing, and I find that totally unfair and really quite bizarre.

  5. I just read The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater in which two vital characters curse imaginatively and with wild abandon. Not only is the language in keeping with the characterisation, it's lyrical and adds to the overall tapestry of plot and dialogue. Teens swear, adults swear and those who campaign against realistic use of what is very much part of every day language are, to my mind, just harbingers of an all too familiar brand of puritanical bullshit.

  6. Great post! All in moderation. It's funny because my teen censors herself in front of us. Yes, I agree with Ellie above, teens swear a lot in general but I do know YA's who don't swear and don't actually like to hear 'bad language'. I'm going to stay in the middle on this one. My view is that 'swear words' are okay if to make a point or are in context with the writing but I do think they should not be overused. As for bookshops, they should cater to their audiences.

  7. I don't have anything against swearing if it's done in a realistic way. As you said, books are supposed to have some element of realism in them. As a teen myself, I'm always around people who constantly swear and you can't go anywhere without hearing it.

    Really enjoyed reading this post, Laura!

  8. I'm probably the least swear-y out of all my friends, who will sometimes swear a little more than necessary, but we all censor ourselves when around teachers, parents and authority figures. A lot of people swear unnecessarily, which I think paints a bad impression of them. As much as I agree wholeheartedly with your point, I also think that books should reach a happy medium – using more swear words (to illustrate a point like in 'The Dream Thieves') but not excessively, like I've seen in a few books.

  9. I don't think swearing should be included for the sake of it, that's a bit too 'down with the kids' trying to be cool. As someone who didn't swear as a teenager (I got laughed at if I did, apparently it doesn't suit me) I don't like the assumption that all teenagers swear, therefore all teen characters should swear. I read Stephen King books from the age of 12 and that's definitely not affected my swearing habits. Parental influence was always stronger than books!

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