I Swear

I’m an information junkie. I’m always collecting it — tearing articles out of magazines (yes, I still subscribe to ink-on-paper magazines); quoting the best bits I read and hear; even passing along catalogs like the one from The Teaching Company for The Great Courses.


(Illustration by Corliss Elizabeth Williams for Time)


Possibly I’m a low-level hoarder. I’ve kept an article I tore out of the August 10, 2009, TIME magazine: “Why Swearing Is Good for You.” Author Tiffany Sharples says that swearing “can do more than vent frustration: it can actually reduce physical pain.” A study in Britain found that test subjects could endure painfully cold water longer while swearing. Repeating “a curse word of their choice” made the ice water feel less intensely painful.

“In swearing,” said the study’s lead author, “people have an emotional response, and it’s the emotional response that actually triggers the reduction of pain.”

I passed along a copy of that article to a writer friend who often advises his colleagues to “put more cussing” in our stories. He seems to instinctively appreciate the emotional power of swearing.

Of course, for those of us who write young-adult fiction, swearwords can be problematical. Some teachers, librarians, and parents frown on including obscenities in stories aimed at teenage (and up) readers.

In my YA / new-adult fantasy trilogy Waterspell, my deuteragonist (the character taking the part of second importance) swears like a sailor, and my protagonist, Carin, can almost match him. Their swearing habits are essential to revealing who these characters are.

To get around the objections that would surely be raised if I had used standard American profanity, I gave my characters a different divinity to swear by. They’re in a parallel universe, so it makes sense that their holy figures would have different names than the gods do on Earth. Instead of swearing “By God!” it’s “By Drisha!” in their world.

Another helpful source of inoffensive profanity comes from old English expressions like “gorblimey,” which is a euphemism for “God blind me.” My wizard is fond of saying “Drisha blind me!” It makes people wince in his world, since it’s such a strong oath to them. But Earthlings are not offended.

In my never-ending quest for good, pain-relieving swearing, I mine sources such as old Irish fairy and folk tales. From them I’ve gotten such gems as “A thousand murders!” and “My breath and blood!”

Thanks to TIME’s Tiffany for giving me even more reasons to collect the best in profanity. My characters get into painful situations that require them to vent via a good outburst of colorful language.

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  1. Pingback: The Fussy Librarian Recommends Waterspell | The Wisewoman

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