Happy Inauguration Day for our U.S. readers! (and Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, too). Washington, D.C., is completely abuzz this a.m. with President Obama Inauguration 2.0. Speaking of swearing-in... What about in our romances? Actual swearing. In our romances.
Swearing can be excellent comic relief or stress—all that pent-up sexual tension! Swearing can also add a level of severity to a romance. Case in point: The Black Dagger Brotherhood (BDB) is a minefield of F-bombs, sometimes for comic relief, but mostly for expressing anger and displaying testosterone.
Sometimes, swearing in romances can add an extra urgency to the speaker’s message, and the payoff is even greater when the conversation is sexually charged. The characters are so overwhelmed with emotion and at such a loss for words, only profanity can help deliver their message. Our historicals can get bloody passionate and our paranormals can get fucking insane. Fans of Zsadist in the BDB series might remember this heart-aching scene:
“Make Love? Make Love?” He spread his arms out. “Bella... all I’ve got to offer you is fucking. You won’t like it, and frankly, I won’t like doing it to you. You’re so much better than that.” —Zsadist, Lover Awakened
Damn. Did that make your heart skip a beat? (Or did the F-bomb ruin it?)
Sometimes subtly and delivery is KEY, especially when it fits the character’s personality. Case in point: the film Bridget Jones’ Diary (jump to 1:05)—at the very end, Bridget says, “Wait a minute... Nice boys don’t kiss like that.” Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth) responds softly, “Oh, yes, they fucking do.” (Watching that scene makes my toes go numb!)
For comic relief, When She Said I Do by Celeste Bradley (available 1/29/2013) contained a few wonderful gems that this reader has never seen: “GREAT GEORGE’S BALLS!” exclaimed in a moment of panic, and “Sweet Charlotte’s arse!” muttered under one’s breath in a moment of arousal. The historical context of this swearing makes it especially funny, because it’s a Regency romance and King George III was already quite insane by 1816. But where did some of this swearing begin?
In his TIME article “The F Word,“ M.J. Stephey wrote:
First printed in a Scottish poem in 1503, the ancient and awesomely powerful F-bomb continues to mystify lexicographers. Rumors persist that legal acronyms spawned the obscenity in question (”Fornication Under Consent of the King“ or the Irish police-blotter inscription ”booked For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge“), though the modern-day phrase has been traced to a number of etymological origins: Middle Dutch (fokken), Germanic (ficken), English (firk), Scottish (fukkit). Even the Latin terms futuerre (”to copulate“) and pungo (”to prick“) bear a striking resemblance to the four-letter word. Of course, its original definition linking sex with violence and pleasure with pain has broadened considerably in the past 500 years.
“Fornication Under Consent of the King” sounds perfect for a historical romance! That’s practically written for Old Skool medieval romance novels! And it’s good to see that “fukkit” is still used today.
What about the F-word linking sex with violence and pleasure with pain? Yes, of course, the use and context has definitely broadened, but what about the usage for pure hate/negativity? There are certain deal-breakers and nasty unmentionables that need to be taken off the table right away. It is un-sexy swearing and should never belong in a romance: Racial slurs, homophobic slurs, and basically any swearing that sounds like it could be involved with a hate crime. Sometimes even the word “bitch,” when used to insult or emotionally manipulate a heroine, is inadmissible. And the “c-word,” when it’s used as an insult (not like an erotic euphemism for vagina) can be especially repellant for many romance fans.
Or are readers too sensitive to the swearing? Does the appropriateness of swearing vary depending on the art or entertainment? Maybe it’s okay to reading swearing in a book, but not always appropriate to hear it in a movie. Or just the opposite, maybe it’s lack-luster in a book, but brilliant when narrated or acted-out, as we saw with the “I like your kinky fuckery” clip.
Overall, how do you feel about swearing in your romances? Do you have any favorite/memorable romances with swearing? (Heck, even U.S. vice president Joe Biden has dropped the F-bomb!)
Jena Briars is a California girl living in D.C., feeding her brain one romance novel at a time...When she's not busy at work, or being distracted (sometimes ambushed) by her cat, she reviews romances on her website Throughout the Pages.