For almost forty years I wrote for two newspapers here in South Carolina and never uttered a curse word. The pages of these family-oriented newspapers were “profanity free” in those days.
Oh sure, an occasional “damn” or “hell” might have slipped through in a quote from an army general in wartime or a professional athlete in the heat of competition.
But for the most part, we were challenged to keep our copy clean and remove anything that might be offensive to our audience.
That started to change in the last years of my employment. Before I retired in 2011, I started noticing the relaxation of the profanity rules. That’s because newspapers were starting to reflect the real world and how people actually talked.
Of course, you’re still unlikely to see the Lord’s name taken in vain or some other vulgar slurs that are commonly heard these days on the street.
But I have noticed the emerging use of “sucks” in our everyday print, electronic and social media. And it makes me ponder its application.
When used as a verb, it alludes to a sexual act considered vulgar by some standards. But now it has been expanded to include expressions of disdain (i.e. you suck, that sucks, they suck, suck this).
I bring this up because I’ve encountered some of my more mature fans along the book signing trail who think the language in some of my novels is over the line.
While signing books out of town recently, an older lady whispered to me about my last novel, “Salkehatchie Soup,” that I should be ashamed. “What would your mother think?”
Granted, my books are sprinkled with the language of everyday people. And my longtime newspaper readers could be shocked when they see some of the words that come out of my characters’ mouths.
So when I speak to these potential readers, I often mention that my novels “Swallow Savannah,” “Sister Santee” and “Salkehatchie Soup” aren’t your typical moonlight and magnolia southern novels. That they are down and dirty, like the real South Carolina.