Using cuss words in writing

Last Friday, Poynter’s Al Tompkins wrote about how cussing has increased with the downturn in the economy.  Tompkins’ article got me to thinking about cussing and its role in a variety of avenues — specifically the written word.

I suppose I should begin this post by saying that I don’t cuss either verbally or on paper.  That said, this is a discussion that has come up in every writing class I’ve taught, so I felt it was worth a post.  I’m talking nonfiction here, not fiction.

In writing for a specific newspaper or magazine, the first rule is to check the publication’s guidelines.  The vast majority of publications don’t want writers using cuss words in their text, but some are OK with them as part of a direct quote when warranted.  If you’re not sure what the publication wants, then ask.

Some publications may leave it up to you.  In which case, you have to have an idea of what you’ll do.  This hasn’t come up very often for me in the type of writing that I do, but it has come up.

For example, when editing autobiographies to go into the library of an aviation museum a few years ago, I came across cuss words from time to time.  I always edited them, usually using a cleaner alternative word such as “darn.”  I knew the library was used for education and school children were one audience.  Strong language was inappropriate.

In general, my personal philosophy is to not use quotes with foul language.  It doesn’t fit with most publications that I work for, and I just have a problem with it personally.  I don’t like hearing it or reading it, so for me it doesn’t make sense to write it.

How do you feel about cuss words in print?

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