Terri and Erin quite eloquently posted last week about Clean Reader, an app which apparently "cleans up" any work of literature--that is, anything that contains words--to best appease the sensibility of those who feel some parts of our language should not be employed. I do not intend to address that subject directly, mostly because I think everything Terri and Erin said was so dead-on I don't need to add to it.
I do think we've regressed somewhat in our use of language. In fact, we've regressed a number of decades, to the point that simply using certain words can be considered scandalous or politically inappropriate. I grew up on the idea that words were tools, that they could express any thought if used properly. I grew up on George Carlin, and to tell the truth, I thought we were over this stuff.
People remember the classic Carlin discussion of Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television, but they miss the point for all the cursing. Yes, he goes out of his way to use all seven title words. But he doesn't do that just for the joy--which must have been palpable at the time--of saying them in a public forum. He's talking about the use of words, and why some have been segregated from the others.
It's a question of sensibility, and that's fair. The problem is when one sensibility decides to impose itself upon all others, which is what everybody thinks "the other side" is doing to them.
I believe in all words. I think each one has a use, and a specific one. Writers have been known to spend hours agonizing over a particular usage. To set aside some because they might offend others seems to me to be a poor use of resources. Some words are meant to offend. It's not the word's fault you're insulted. It's the thought behind it.
For the past 15 or so years I have been writing mystery novels and many of those fall into the "cozy" sub genre. The parameters of the "cozy" have been fairly well debated and I will not attempt to redefine the term here. But it is pretty universally understood that "bad language" is something that should be avoided in such works.
I don't have a problem with the idea of language fitting the form. I knew what I was signing when those contracts crossed my desk. I'm writing for a particular audience and that audience prefers not to see certain words. If I felt--as I did in my first published novel--that one of those words (often referred as a "bomb," which is sort of bizarre--does the word lay waste to entire city blocks?) was necessary to the story, I'd use it. Otherwise, I could find other ways to express the idea. I'm a writer. That's what I do.
(This is where I should say that I don't consider what I do to be "self-censorship." It's not like I'm dying to curse my brains out but rein it in for the sake of commerce. And my editors have never once asked me to change a word in order to appease anyone's sensibility. The changes we've made have been to make the book better. Period.)
But in some cases the whole breadth of the English language is necessary to the work. What has happened, particularly in comedy but certainly not limited to it, is that the giddy freedom Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and others helped create led to overindulgence. People swear without making a point just because they could. That's lazy. I'm not offended, except as a fan of comedy. Work harder. If the joke needs the word, use it. If it's just to show off how daring you are, I'm bored. It's 2015. We've all heard that before.
I don't believe in "bad words." As Carlin said, "There are bad thoughts. Bad intentions. But words?" He had a point. And that's the point.