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.