Jan 21 2013 2:00pm

“Swearing In” on Inauguration Day!: Cursing in Romance Novels

Lover Awakened by J.R. WardHappy 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!)

When She Said I Do by Celeste BradleyFor 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.

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Julia Broadbooks
1. juliabroadbooks
The swearing doesn't bother me much at all, but I like it better when it is a meaningful part of the character. Like Zhadist. He couldn't have said anything but fuck in that line.

I really liked Megan Mulry's potty-mouthted New Yorker heroine in A Royal Pain. I know so many New Yorkers who talk like that and it just underscored the differences between her background and the hero.
2. carmenlire
I don't mind cussing at all; I think it adds a realistic aspect to the writing. Sometimes a swear word just fits perfectly in the dialogue, whether to add comedians relief, or because emotions are running hot. BDB is a perfect example. One reason I absolutely love this series so much (and there are several ), is the writing. It wouldn't BE the Black Dagger Brotherhood without the cussing.
Jena Briars
3. CutMyTeethOnKleypas
@juliabroadbooks - I'll have to check out Royal Pain. (Yup, I'm usually expecting one or two explicatives if the H&H are from a huge city!)

@carmenlire - It's funny with BDB because getting through the first book took me a while for all the swearing (even with their rough lingo), and then the dialogue in all the remaining books didn't even phase me.
4. Lionrock71
Kristen Ashley uses a fair amount of profanity in some of her books but her timing -- for humor and/or overall heat between characters -- is so perfect that it would seem odd/stilted/antiquated without the cursing. Hers is actually less gratuitous to me than Ward's who overuses every possible opportunity to be gritty by referencing "shitkickers" instead of just saying a Brother pulled on his boots. That is annoying! As with rap music that has been edited whereupon my brain goes to the trouble of filling in the missing expletive, I do like my reading to be as salty as it's supposed to be to fit the topic/characters. I don't want a watered down version of the entertainment that I choose to seek out. If I did, I'd still be reading Nancy Drew. Even Judy Blume eventually ended up getting a little dirty for the adult readers! I read a biker related romance and the H referred to his "priapism"...I just about fell out laughing when I read that. So prissy and just wrong for a scary biker dude! THOSE are the authors that need to be tweaked.
Julia Broadbooks
5. juliabroadbooks
@CutMyTeethOnKleypas I had the same reaction to BDB, and I've wondered if the language disconnect with the first book was more on my end or the author's learning curve.
Vanessa Ouadi
6. Lafka
First things first, I love the idea of an article about swearing because of the presidential swearing-in, that's hilarious !

Second, I'm a great curser in true life _ I curse often and quite viciously. Remember, in The Matrix Reloaded, the Merovingian cursing in french? That's pretty much me when I drive a car. Or when I hit my little toe against a table.

Anywayyy, I'm really not bothered by swearing in books, romance or otherwise. I actually believe it's more realistic, because I really don't know many people who never say a few choice words from time to time _ especially guys. But I agree with Lionrock71, the overuse of crass words can become quite annoying, especially if it doesn't fit the character or if the situation doesn't call for it.
Megan Frampton
7. MFrampton
It's funny that New Yorkers' swearing habits are mentioned--a few people reviewing my book have said they didn't like it because the heroine swears. I didn't even think about that when writing it because I live in NY, and we swear here (not in front of my kid, often, but in my head a lot).
8. wsl0612
Swearing never really bothers me, I watched Deadwood and Sons of Anarchy without flinching :-) What really annoys me is when the character gets too cute, I totally loathed the "twee" phrases in Karen Marie Moning's Fever series!
Jena Briars
9. CutMyTeethOnKleypas
@Lafka - lol at the Merovingian reference! I also remember reading some Dakota Cassidy paranormal romances and thinking it's a lot of swearing - but it fits the situation/conflict perfectly (heroine frustrated she was turned into a vampire, etc.)

@MFrampton - I will generalize and say that NYers are pretty gifted at swearing. A very good friend of mine (born and raised in NYC) catches everyone off-guard when she swears. She's normally very calm/sweet/polite - but when she lets a curse word fly, she has everyone's full attention. It's brilliant.

@wslo612 - YES - Deadwood. Funny how the swearing in Deadwood stood out to me more (probably because it felt so "formal" and "old fashioned") than the swearing in The Wire. And I agree on the "cutsy" talk being too painful to read. KMM's Highlander time-travel series is about as "cutsy" as I can tolerate with all the petnames and such.
Laura Toth
10. lanchid
Just this afternoon I finished Jennifer Ashley's "The Seduction of Elliot McBride" (an historical, obviously) so there really wasn't a lot of cursing in it. But at a crucial moment, when the heroine has had a face to face meeting with the bad guy and Elliot (the hero) finds out and takes her into a room and vented his fear for her and frustration by yelling at her (among other things), "What did you think I meant when I said Stacy was fucking dangerous?" I found that to be a powerful emotional moment, specifically because of the cursing.

Frankly, I find it *more* distracting when I read about someone "biting out a curse" or some such thing because then my mind tries to fill in what they said. I'd really prefer to have some historically accurate cursing like "great George's balls!" heh
Kate Sanborn
11. LestatLover
I have no problem with cursing in romance in quite a few that I've read the word fuck, it is used in a few different ways. Certain authors use it as the verb and others use it to mean a general curse. It doesn't bother me either way sometimes it's kind of hot to be cursed at given the context of the curse and situation.
Jena Briars
12. CutMyTeethOnKleypas
@lanchid - so true! I didn't consider the mental "speed bump" of BITING OFF the swear - now that you point it out, I agree, it irritates me and I feel like it could've been more fluid to just continue the cursing in the dialogue.
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