Sunday, October 05, 2008

For the use of Erotic Language

Margaret L Carter wrote a scholarly blog a few days ago about the use of shocking language in literature. Margaret's bottom line, as I understood it, was that for her, the use of certain carnal words is less than a turn-on.

I'll confess, I'm not in Margaret's camp. At least, not in print.

Words are my tools and my arsenal. To extend the war-like imagery begun with "the pen is mightier than the sword", I'm not going to sign on to a literary nuclear non-proliferation treaty. I like to have a dirty bomb or two at my disposal.

Almost any word, used with skill and precision, can accomplish the author's purpose. I've read uses of the f-word where I could not imagine a more effective or arousing word for the context.

Almost any word for male genitalia is fair game as far as I am concerned. Apart from "body". That one is too ridiculous. The only exception would be if I were writing a romance about a species of shark (or is it a Hackfish?) that dwells in the deepest parts of the oceean, and the tiny male attaches himself to a passing female and becomes a trailing part of her body.

I don't use g**h or c**t or sl** . Mostly, I keep female genitalia off the table. (By the way, for those who don't know me, I mix metaphors deliberately.)

Come to think of it (groan) the F- word is quite special, isn't it? The acronym WTF is widely texted (is that a word?). So far, I've never seen WTC.

In Insufficient Mating Material I used the F- word in several ways. The hero said it a lot, both when he was swearing, and because he was furious at being forced into a royal shotgun wedding, and then rejected by the ungrateful bride.

My favorite scene involving this word was when the hero's mealy mouthed, oh-so-proper grandmother used it. She was using Tarot cards to tell the fortune of, and incidentally to interrogate, a particularly heinous villain.

The Tower turned up. It can be a sinister card, suggesting that the questor is in deep trouble. Having already gloated about crimes he'd gotten away with, the villain asked what it meant. The Empress Helispeta replied, "You are f***ed!"

It was immensely satisfying to write that.

Insufficient Mating Material is, I think, the only book I've written that qualified for a review by Just Erotic Romance Reviews. JERR. Like the publisher Margaret mentioned, a book only qualifies for a review by JERR if it contains graphic four letter words.

For some reason, I wanted Forced Mate reviewed by JERR. I wanted Forced Mate reviewed by everyone, regardless of how appropriate it was. I remember objecting to their criteria because even the Muppets use a four letter word for female genitalia. (Mrs Thistletwat).

Moving on....

Knight's Fork has no graphic language in intimate settings. In fact, there's very little graphic action in intimate settings, either. On choice occasions, the villains do use the f- word both as an expletive and as a verb, but only in conversations with other males.

I own several How To books, including a Scoundrel's Dictionary, a dictionary of slang, and a book titled The F-word. It's interesting how and why people insult and annoy each other.

I am indebted to Charlee Boyett-Compo for the following links which should only be clicked by adults who are not easily shocked.

Charlee, by the way, has the most comprehensive and informative set of links on her website that I have ever seen.

Best wishes,
Rowena Cherry


  1. I recently bought a paperback called THE BIG BOOK OF FILTH, which lists every term for every sexual part and act one could possibly think of, from extremely crude through euphemistic to flowery-metaphorical. I don't like the title of the book, but it certainly promises to be useful, or at least entertaining.

  2. The distinction you make between cursing and using "bad" language in bed in interesting. I've never found crude language very sexy,and don't really get why people do, but I don't think I could make it through a day at work without saying the F-word at least once. I don't think I can write comuter code without it. It's just such a good tenson release, and more healthy than eating pound of fudge while updating the system.

  3. Maybe one reason why I can't see certain "obscene" words as erotic is that I can't stand hearing them in everyday conversation, either. When they have been spoken in my presence, it's usually as an expression of anger, and I can't stand listening to angry outbursts. If they include four-letter words, it's almost physically painful for me. No doubt it has a lot to do with one's upbringing. As a child and teenager, I never heard "unprintable" words spoken. "Damn" and "hell" were shocking, not to be used in front of children, in the 1950s and early 60s -- and my father was very good about keeping his language clean. (Even as an adult, I can recall hearing him say "damn" only once or twice, after a few drinks.) So I never heard such language and therefore never internalized it as part of my vocabulary. Heck, I never even knew the "words you can't say on television" EXISTED until I got old enough to discover risque fiction.

    My stepmother was verbally abusive (which is doubtless why I can't stand to be exposed to anger) but never ever used "unprintable" words.

    I express surprise or anger with terms such as "heck," "darn," "curses," "rats," "oh, for the love of milk shakes," and "heavens to murgatroyd." Ladylike middle-aged women in this region of the country sometimes say "sugar" or "peaches" to let off steam.

  4. My mom was very white gloves Emily Post type and we could not cures in public. But Damn, dammit and Hell were OK in private at home, no body function words though.

    Because of this I didn't even realize people thought Damn or Dammit were bad never-ever-to-be-used words until I was in college. I had a work study job building sets in the theater and picked up constant cursing from the pro stage hands and have never been able to break the habit.

    I had a woman moved into the empty cube in my office who was very timid and religious. She was super offended that I often cursed to myself while working. I used to work with headphones on listening to classical music to block outside distractions she was so timid I didn't hear her objecting over the music. After the HR person told me I had her in tears three days in a row I tried to switch to "son of a beaver" and "fudge-nut-bars". Thank heavens the timid woman left the company after a few years and I have the office to myself again.

    Frack does yeoman work for me me these days almost as good as the real thing when dealing with baulky IT systems.

    Interesting how different cultures see cursing differently. I have a friend with a husband from Cork. Nice guy, real gentelman but I think the only modifying word he knows if "fecking".

  5. Thanks for the links, Rowena.

    Yep, I wholeheartedly agree that any and all words are valuable tools in a writer's arsenal. Margaret, I remember when my mother said, "Hell's bells!" I nearly died of shock.

    OTOH, I grew up around lots of men, so I did hear a good share of the more graphic words. And like Mfitz, when I did programming, the f-word slipped out on occasion. Something about computers and milk cows--you just can't deal with either without cursing.

    So even though those words generally don't bother me, graphic words in a love scene is the same as dumping a bucket of ice water on my head.

    During a discussion on this same topic, our chapter conducted an informal competition to identify the most ridiculous euphemism for penis. I think the winner was "purple helmeted warrior of love." Because the person who came up with this is very well known, I'll refrain from giving credit in order not to incriminate her. LOL

    The handling of sexual language in Knight's Fork works for me. It conveys the high sexual tension but still maintains the tongue-in-cheek tone.

    BTW, I think the reference to "Djinn joint" is hysterical.


  6. I do say "hell's bells" sometimes. Must be a result of being marked for life by GONE WITH THE WIND at an early age. :) That was my stepmother's favorite book and movie of all time. I'm very fond of them myself.

  7. Anonymous8:21 PM EST

    If we're looking at erotic words and terms, how about a wiki rather than a dictionary... (above)?