To cuss or not to cuss, that is the question. Readers, I am serious. I want to hear from you and lay this beast to rest.

Swear Jar

The question is, are readers offended by swearing and what is sometimes called “off-color” language? One of Merriam-Webster definitions for off-color language is “verging on the indecent” and lists the following synonyms: bawdy, blue, gamy, lewd, off, racy, ribald, risqué, salty, spicy, and suggestive. There isn’t a word on that list that I don’t love.

I happen to swear a lot. I blame it on being a lawyer for many years. My father blamed his swearing (and drinking) on having been a “Navy man.” Maybe swearing is genetic. I love words and swear-words are no different. Using tame substitutes doesn’t work and is lame. “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a darn,” will never replace “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Portrait of an angry young woman cursing and symbols written on a blackboard – illustration concepts

But here’s my dilemma. Some readers don’t agree and are offended by salty language. I remember an editor asking me if a particular word was worth losing a reader and I capitulated. Recently, while editing a book I’ve written, Grammarly popped up and suggested a particular cuss word I used might be offensive to a reader. I wanted to say, “Well, too damn bad.” Instead, I considered changing the word.

I don’t want to offend readers. I want them to read and enjoy my books. It’s just that some of my characters happen to swear up a storm. These are mysteries where people are being murdered, so what’s a little shit, damn, hell. The occasional f-bomb can add emphasis in a way no other word does. And the fact is this is how people talk, so using spicy language in dialogue seems natural to me. I have never put down a book because it contained swearing, either in dialogue or prose.

I do want to be respectful of readers who may feel differently. As Sharon mentioned in her recent blog, I am a firm believer of letting the reader decide. So, dear readers, I want to hear from you, not from Grammarly or an editor who doesn’t want to lose a sale, how do you feel about swearing in mysteries? Are some words okay, but others, such as the f-bomb off-limits? Would you stop reading a book, even if you were enjoying it otherwise, if it contained cussing?

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