Each generation brings something new into the American lexicon, and sometimes that means sweeping “dirty” words into the “acceptable” column. I remember my mom kicking up a fuss when I said “gee” one time, not because it was a dirty word, but because “gee” is derived from the name “Jesus.” “Golly” was also a no-no, since it is derived from “God.” We weren’t to take God’s name in vain in any form or fashion.
Among the curse words of my youth, “dang” and “darn” were derivatives of “damn,” and therefore forbidden. “Heck” was too much like “hell” to make the no-mouth-soap zone. “Butt” could get you in trouble, but kids snickered over the word anyway.
Today, the mere idea that these words were once considered “dirty” is laughable. Can you imagine a character in a novel pointing a gun and saying, “Gee, you make me mad! Go to heck, you danged varmint! Get your butt outta here or I’m gonna shoot!” Doesn’t exactly fit the mold for edgy Christian fiction–and for mainstream fiction? Oh, puh-lease!
I realized something the other day while editing a client’s manuscript: the older I get, the more I’m like my mother. And I’m not talking about the cool mom either. I’m talking the lecturing, soap-totin’ mom who wanted me to keep my language pure and pristine. What sparked this revelation? I read the word “piss” in a Christian manuscript.
Don’t get me wrong. Many generations used the word in different ways, and it wasn’t considered cussing. “Piss and vinegar.” “Piss ant.” But for the most part, use of the word was unacceptable, and replaced with the more polite, “tick.” “That really ticks me off!”
Another word is “ass.” Yes, that one can even be found in the old King James version of the Bible, but it means “donkey.” Considering there are publishers out there who still find “butt” objectionable, I wonder how this one is going to be accepted in the Christian fiction industry.
The killer, “friggin'” or “frickin’,” is an obvious substitution for a word so foul no one in polite society uses it–at least not around here. I’d heard that the original word is derived from the penal code in jolly old England back in the 19th century or so (may be earlier, but I’m not sure).
Prostitutes were arrested and charged with felonious use of carnal knowledge, then put away for a time to get them off the streets. The acronym went from being a legal term to a soap-worthy dirty word I’ve never used and don’t intend to. [I just discovered this is “urban legend,” and since I can’t remember where I first heard this definition, I can’t say that it’s not urban legend. OOPS! Ignore me–and thanks, Jessica Snell for pointing it out.] But, I’ve never used the substitutes, either. Still the word itself and it’s substitute have permeated society and are tossed around like breadcrumbs for pigeons in any secular book or movie. Only once did I read the substitute in a Christian manuscript, and I didn’t think twice about red-lining it.
“Hell” and “damn” have been showing up in Christian works in recent years, employed in their non-Christian meanings, so maybe I was being old-fashioned by wanting to red-line “piss” in the manuscript I was editing. I put the question out on a couple of loops yesterday. These loops are composed of professionals in the Christian book industry–agents, editors, and authors. I wrote: “I’m seeing some words in the works I edit that weren’t ‘okay’ when I was a kid. Are the current alternatives for “ticked off” and “backside” acceptable in the Christian market?”
I was surprised at the range of answers I received. Some were adamantly against the use of the “milder” dirty words and included in the group of unacceptable terminology the current fad of OMG. (Personally I agree with that. OMG bugs me enough as it is, but it’s worse counterpart, OMFG, is downright offensive.)
Others felt the words were no big deal. At most, I should point them out to my clients and inform them the language may be marked for removal by a publisher.
I still wonder if not red-lining these words is the same as condoning the degeneration of the American lexicon. Or maybe I should just join the 21st century and accept the changes–at least while I’m editing. I don’t think I could ever get comfortable adding these words to my vocabulary.
Since I’m undecided, let me ask your opinion. What do you think?