To Swear or Not to Swear

Liz Schneidewin

Yesterday I tried swearing.

I got this picture from…

It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. As a writer I am often criticised for the way I portray my everyday characters. How can I improve, I ask the critics (I figure they are only telling me what they think I am doing wrong so that I can do it better). Your characters are too nice, they tell me. OK, I say. I accept that criticism. What can I do to change that? Let them swear, they tell me.

Let them swear.

It’s an interesting concept. To me it means that my characters are being denied something they desperately need, like they are the teenager and I am the mother and I will only allow them to watch screens if they have taken the rubbish out and finished their homework. But are they truly being denied?

Talk to a writer. If they’re anything like me, they walk the fine daily line of serving their stories or giving in to their characters complaints and just giving them whatever it is they want. Sometimes some characters manifest themselves so solidly that you have to go and scrub something while plugged to Linkin’ Park for half an hour just to get them to shut up long enough to let you get on with describing the room. If they’re anything like me, that is.

I hear these characters very clearly in my inner ear, talking to each other, negotiating their wants and needs, crossing paths, dealing with conflict, living out their dreams or nightmares, but none of them, ever, in anything they say to me or each other, at any time, swear. They don’t seem to feel the need. They have other words.

Ah, ha, you say. That’s just some ‘Freudian’ revelation of your own shackled self-conscious. You don’t swear because you lack personal empowerment and are still chained psychologically to the outmoded restrictions of a patriarchal society. Etc.

Maybe. But I don’t think so.

I don’t swear because I don’t like it. It doesn’t make me feel good. I think that it carries the disease of negativity and fear like a word virus into our minds and the more people swear because other people swear, other people swear because other people are swearing and that’s all there is to it. Some things that trap us, trick us into thinking they are freedom.


I used to be a teacher. One day I was talking to a class before school. This class of Year 9 students were not happy. Apparently, on the bus that day, all the little kids were using really bad language. Kids in primary school and even prep swearing like soldiers. Can you f—ing believe it?

Yes. I said. Yes. I can.

Yesterday, I gave up swearing. I have other words.


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