There's an interesting article here about swearing.

One of the things it says is: "There are circumstances when swearing is deeply satisfying, the kind of swearing I call cathartic swearing. I believe a lot of it goes back to a rage reflex that we inherited from other mammals. When an animal is suddenly confined or injured it will erupt in a furious struggle and emit an ear-piercing yowl. In the case of humans, that vocal impulse ties into our language system so we articulate our yowl with words we usually inhibit ourselves from saying."

It made me think of Mark Billingham's comments in the introduction to the new anthology, Expletive Deleted:

"But…if knowing full well what the subject matter of such books is, you are still shocked and disgusted by a little bad language, then frankly you are an idiot, whose sense of values is way overdue for a service. Just how skewed does your worldview have to be, before you find it acceptable to read about death and dismemberment but are offended if those who come close to it swear now and again? Or go home and have a drink to cope with the trauma? Or, heaven forbid, sleep with someone they haven’t known for very long?"

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Losing readers? Oh, Ray, I doubt that very much. I think you are right about the "feeling powerless." I see a lot of indiscriminate use of "fuck" by youngsters. Perhaps it's a sort of "I dare you!" or "I don't give a damn what anyone thinks. Don't step on me!"

And clearly it's part of the human vocabulary now.

About it's being a "fad": well only in the sense that it can become a group identification word. On the internet and otherwise. However, that may be due to the internet experience rather than it's newness.
Yup.
I cuss like a sailor. And I think there are few words as utilitarian and descriptive as "fuck". Verb, adverb, adjective, add an -er at the end and it's a noun. You can use it when you're pissed, happy, orgasmic, joking, despairing, disbelieving, amazed... a great word, when you think about it!

Once my son make a remark like, "You better clean it up before I have kids." So I did, immediately. After ten minutes of me calling him a poop-head, using exclamations like Holy Hannah, Heavens to Betsy and Oh Golly Gee Whiz , all delivered in syrupy Southern sugar and much innocent eye-batting, he was begging me to go back to the occasional invective.

If people don't want to run across characters that use a rough word or two, they can read The Watchtower and not head for the crime section at Barnes and Noble, but if they do, they better not act all shocked and moralistic. They've been warned!
Swearing has it's place. For instance, if your character rarely swears and does so, the reader should realize that the scene is important in so much as it has a shocking effect on the character, cause and effect. If a character swears consistently, then the shocking moments may not be as evocative of a reaction as in the first example. However, language is a part of establishing setting and character, where the character is from, where the scene is set, where the character grew up and so on.
These days swearing is common place and no longer causes reaction as it did in years past. Kids swear, I know, I taught my own when they were 2 and parroting everything they heard. But at least, I taught them how to do it right., I had to teach them I was wrong in saying those words and they shouldn't use them either. As a teacher, I heard and saw those words often and realized it was the actions of a lazy brain. Thus I taught a class in swearing starting with middle schoolers. Even words that aren't considered swearing , such as dumb, began to irritate me. Reason: most folks don't even know that dumb means mute. Imagine me saying to a classroom, "I wish you all were dumb." It certainly caused a reaction and I was called to task, but it served it's purpose. Parents suddenly became involved and thus came the swearing class.
I use Peter Bowler's books. The Superior Person's Book of Words, The Superior Person's Second Book of Weird and Wondrous Words, and The Superior Person's Thrid Book of Well-Bred Wrods. These are a great addition to any writer's library and definitely enhance one's vocabulary. I think we would all prefer n ot to have our characters described as acerebral even though some mornings I can be somewhat limaceous. Nor do I wish for my favorite detective to be described as having the disease of necrencephalus.
At the same time, we must be realistic, no one is perfect. If the old lady is shocked at reading a swear word or at a sex scene, then she can put away the book. Or do we need to ask the publishers to rate the books as we do movies? Horrific thought, isn't it?
Context and characterization are key. There's an episode in Season One of THE WIRE where McNulty and Bunk investigate a crime scene. For about three minutes, the only word spoken is 'fuck' or one of its derivatives. View it on You Tube and it's gratuitous and stupid. See it in the episode and it's fascinating.
I remember that scene!! I thought it was wonderful. The word had so many shades of meaning didn't it. Very cleverly done.
I think a lot of writers are careful to include someone to represent the Outraged or Pious Front and tsk tsk the cusser. It is the safety valve for those with a delicate eye and or the editors.

It is true that Reacher doesn't swear, but Child has no qualms creating cussers for Reacher to kill.
I didn't use to swear that much, but the older I get, the more I swear. By now, I feel I have the right!
I don't mind reading a book with swear words in it,if it's done right. If the bad guy swears, I expect it.
If the main character uses the "f" word, it's usually a turnoff to me unless there's a very good reason for using it, more for emphasis than an everyday adjective.
(I can say it, but not the hero/heroine in the books I read - double standard, I know)
Morgan Mandel
I'm afraid that some of the rougher characters in my novel let one slip every so often, and I was really concerned about this. At first I tried taking them out and giving them nicer, subsitute verbalizations. Sometimes this worked, but just as one of my bumbling hitmen told the other, "Hitmen don't take refunds, Virgil", they hardly ever say "DARN it" either. Next I tried using the f--K, or fuk, (my husband's favorite work-around,) but it looked artificial. I went to my editor, ashamed , and asked her "Will the library take my book with that awful word in it...you know the one...the one that means fornication and not having any fun with it, either? She laughed at me. Yes, my screwed up hitmen and frustrated lawmen and even my religious fanatic cuss freely when sorely provoked. I do too, nowdays. Getting older liberates you a bit in a lot of ways.
I don't think there's any hypocrisy in someone being offended by the word "fuck" but not by violence. The violence in books isn't real, whereas the word "fuck" is offensive to some people in itself - so it's simply offensive to see or hear it, no matter if it's in a made-up setting.

I just think it's strange that anyone *is* offended by it. Where I come from, most people say it all the time, and it means nothing. Swearing's all so culturally loaded. Cunt is offensive in many ... well, countries, but not in others. If you wanted a French equivalent in terms of *offence*, say, you'd end up with an entirely different meaning. The words do very little these days apart from portray a vernacular, as swearing just isn't all that taboo anymore: like religion, our generation seems to have relaxed and cast a lot of it off. Anyone who accused Ray, for example, of using swearing as a cheap shock tactic must have led a pretty sheltered life.

About the only taboo I can think of is the N word. There's still a bit of dodgy ground, but fuck isn't it.
Yeah, the N word, and now the three letter F word for homosexual. But there is a difference between them written in a book and spoken in a movie or tv show.
Any word that reduces a person to non-human status is the true obscenity. When I was a Rape Crisis counselor, one of the most effective training sessions was all of us women sitting in a circle and we went around and around, using every derogatory term we could think of ever hearing for our genitalia. Most of us had never used these words in our lives, but had heard them used about us as individuals. The purpose was simple. The instructor said, " Now, think of this from an abuser's point of view. It is easier to beat, assault or rape a hole, a bitch or a cunt than it is to do that to a woman or a girl or a child. Once you objectify the person, using those words to strip away their humanity, it is so much simpler to commit a crime against them."

The N word, the F word for homosexuals, the C word all do that, objectify a person or group of people, making it easier to hate them.

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