Oftentimes, I find cuss words to be lazy words, tossed in as filler rather than to add extra meaning or depth to a conversation. Have you ever stepped on a pointy plastic toy in the middle of the night or been cut off by a texting driver, only to spew forth a flow of cuss words that really meant nothing? You want to say something to express your frustration, but you’re so angry that your brain refuses to cooperate, so you just throw out a bunch of bad words.
This sort of spur-of-the-moment lazy talking (or yelling, as the case may be) serves a purpose, but I expect more when I’m watching a movie. Scripts take time to write, and there’s really no excuse for using cuss words as filler. I’ve watched more than one movie that sprinkled swear words throughout the dialogue as freely as dandelions pop up on my lawn. I often wonder exactly how good the movie would be if the screenwriters had taken the time to use real words instead of these ineffectual ones.
The movie Knocked Up is a good example. It’s a funny movie, but it could have been a downright hilarious one if the writer had taken a little more time thinking up clever adjectives instead of throwing a series of cuss words into the mess. One problem was that every character cursed like the proverbial sailor, which is not how people act in real life. Some people cuss on a regular basis, others might curse while angry, and still others never utter a bad word. Instead of adding humor to the scenes, this liberal use of “f” bombs for every character was distracting.
I don’t see this problem as much in books. Maybe I tend to read books that don’t involve a lot of cussing, but more likely, authors find that bad words have a bigger impact on the written page and use them more sparingly. A writer might use a few curse words when a character is introduced to let the reader know he’s not a straight-laced churchgoer, or sometimes only the bad guys curse in a book to make them stand out from the hero.
Cussing does have its place. It can set up characters or create a certain tone. But when the curse words replace more accurate and effective words, I worry that the work is suffering from lazy word syndrome. And if the movie’s already in the theaters or the book on store shelves, then it’s too late for a cure.