Tuesday Essay: A Meditation On The Use of Swear Words

About last year, I think, I came up with what I’ve determined is my best analogy for when, if, and whether to use swear words in writing.

“Swear words should be used sparingly, as if you were in a zombie apocalypse with a gun with limited ammunition – every shot needs to count, and to line up perfectly, or it’s wasted.”

This became quite apparent when I was catching up on the new things from E3 this year. As a – well, a man of ideas – I’m interested in other people’s ideas, whatever form they take, including books, comic books, graphic novels, television and yes, video games.


However, there’s a wee bit of a writing problem with the trailer.

Pushing aside the issues of unrealistic breast physics, and why an anthropomorphic pig keeps around a scantily-clad human woman, there is a problem with excessive swearing in this trailer.

At around a minute in, this pig man goes on a swearing tirade after the monkey swindles him. (Video games are weird, alright?) But since he’s swearing so much, the actual speed of his sentence slows down so he can work those precious curse words in.

This is poorly constructed, because at this point, we, the viewing audience, know he’s mad. We know he’s upset, because of his facial expression, body language, and the sound effect of him thumping his hands against the table. This is actually kind of insulting to a general audience, because we can see all of these things and tell that he’s angry, but the people who made this trailer still felt the need to make this pig man swear so many times, just to be sure we understood he was upset. And for that reason, it’s not off to a good start as a trailer; a trailer is meant to sell you on something and get you interested. Would you buy something that’s insulting your intelligence and ability to assess a situation, telling you something you already figured out yourself from contextual clues?

It’s also inefficient. It takes 30 seconds for him to express his statement when, without the 4 2-syllable swear words, three of which are the same word repeated over and over, for him to express a something that could’ve been said in 20 or even 15 seconds.

Some examples of other ways:

“I want every man after him.”

“I want every cop on payroll after him.”

As a matter of fact, the sentence could be greatly improved just by dropping two of the F-bombs he drops.

And that goes back to the main point (which I admit I let myself get sidetracked from) is that swear words are best used for their impact. Much like the bullets in this analogy, they’re not of any use less they hit something hard. This trailer isn’t doing that, because by cramming so many swear words into so short an amount of time, it blunts the impact of all of them, so the whole thing just sounds juvenile, less like something put together by competent adults who’ve been working steady jobs (reminder if you’re not aware that animation takes a lot of work)  and more like what a teenager thinks an adult setting is like, and had the idea for a great cussy world with anthropomorphic characters and slapped it together.

So the question is, at the end of day, how do you, the audience, feel hearing all of these cuss words uttered while clumped together? Because, at least for me, the answer becomes ‘numb.’

And ‘numb’ is not a result most people who write would want from their audience.


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