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I've been sending my fourth-ish novel through the my writing group. It is about a trio of teenagers running away from some mercenaries. One of them (Maris) is a girl who has only had a year of formal education but grew up on a crowded lumber mill. She has a rather blunt way of speaking.

In the story, the POV character (Kanéko) is rescued by the other two.

Kanéko worried her lip. "Why?"

"You were in need."

Maris' ears drooped and she looked sad. "And Ruben said you were in trouble. And Pahim smelled like he wanted to fuck you. And he's mean. And I don't think he liked you. And I don't hate you."

Kanéko opened her mouth, and then closed it. She found herself unable to look into Maris' wide eyes and looked away.

And other example:

"Pahim," snapped Kanéko, "That horrible bastard. I mean... we slept together and what does he do?" Kanéko's voice rose up as rage filled her. "Then he kidnaps me and tries to sell me off like some slave!"

Maris gaped. "You fucked Pahim?"

Kanéko gasped, and then blushed hotly. "No! Not like that. I mean, we were in the same bed but we... didn't do anything. I swear!"

The part that the writing group got hung up was the use of "fuck" in this context. I intended it to be used purely as a verb to describe a specific set of actions with the connotation of not doing it for procreation. I thought about using a different phrase ("mount" or "hump" would be appropriate for the Maris).

My question is: does this throw the reader out? I believe there are some fantasy authors who do use it but I'd just like to know opinions. Is "fuck" so encumbered by today's meaning that it can't be used without dragging in a whole lot of negative connotations?

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In your question you claim that you are using the word "[un]encumbered by today's meaning". I disagree. The meaning that the word has in your world is exactly the same that it has today: have sexual intercourse.

It is this meaning that makes is useful as a swearword, since sex is taboo in our society. It is not the word "fuck" that is considered obscene, but the sexual activity it denotes.

It is this reference to an obscene act that the word "fuck" still retains in your world. And since people like to use words for tabooed acts such as sex and defecation as swearwords it is very likely that "fuck" would be used as a swearword in your world, too. Unless sex itself had become something that the inhabitants of your world could engage in publicly, in the same way that we publicly engage in eating, that is, people would "fuck" while talking to others on a busy street or invite business partners to a "business-fuck".

There are levels of society where using strong language is common. The lower classes (or however you want to call them) don't use euphemisms such as "sleeping together" or "going to the restroom", but use "fuck" and "shit" to denote these activities. Your excerpt makes me think of such rough folk, not of a world where the word "fuck" is no longer obscene.

  • I was using it not as a swear word but as a practical verb, mainly because I couldn't find any single word that really fit for recreational intercourse that a poorly educated person would use (which precludes recreational intercourse). – dmoonfire Sep 25 '16 at 3:47
  • I understand that you were not using it as a swearword. But you are asking if that "throws the reader out". I'm answering: yes, because in your world that world will still have the connotation of obscenity (because sex is obscene) and probably be used as a swearword, so readers are unable to let go of that aspect of this word and will be reminded of it when they read it in your text. It is the nature of the subject that all words we have are either vulgar or euphemisms or Latin (and still a bit vulgar). – user5645 Sep 25 '16 at 7:17
  • This is incorrect. First, sex is not taboo in our society. This is not 1950, nor is it 1850. Second, the words "make love" refer to the exact same act: sexual intercourse, but have very different connotations than f***. Third, the act is not what is considered obscene in this case: it is the word that you use to describe it. – Mark Baker Sep 25 '16 at 11:43
  • @mbakeranalecta This is incorrect. The media say sex is considered a taboo topic in the US: google.com/search?q=sex+usa+taboo – "make love" originally and still today outside the US means to woo: merriam-webster.com/dictionary/make%20love linguists consider it an euphemism for sex: (see next comment, link too long) – Public sex is considered obscene: legalmann.com/CriminalDefense/SexCrimes/… – user5645 Sep 25 '16 at 12:09
  • "make love" is an euphemism: books.google.de/… – user5645 Sep 25 '16 at 12:10
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I believe it's okay depending on the context you use it.

"Fuck" does throw off a couple readers because it comes off as a jarring to some readers. It's also not widely accepted in society.

However, if your character is built up to have such mannerisms, then it's okay to use it. I wouldn't expect to hear "fuck" from a devout nun, but from a psychopath murderer (which is an extreme), its expected. In this case, "mount" would sound weird.

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    then again, in an alternate world, she could be a devout nun in the Sacred Order of St. George of Carlin, and the Seven Words You Can't Say on Television are their equivalent of the Pater Noster. ;) – Lauren Ipsum Sep 24 '16 at 12:30
  • She isn't a psycho, just uneducated. You know, salt of the earth, people of the lands.... @LaurenIpsum: I love the idea of Sacred Order of Saint George of Carlin. :) – dmoonfire Sep 25 '16 at 3:48
  • My example are examples. They do not address the character in the OP's question – iGbanam Sep 25 '16 at 6:01
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    @dmoonfire The Carlinites are the sister order to the abbey of monks devoted to St. Spock the Pointy-Eared. ;) – Lauren Ipsum Sep 25 '16 at 10:48
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Doesn't bother me, considering the context, but then I'm known for having a potty mouth. :) As long as your book is pitched to an adult audience, you're fine.

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The sexual act can be tender or it can be violent. Its violent aspects can be consensual or non consensual. There are many different words for it, reflecting each of these connotations. F*** is one of the more violent of these words. But f*** also has other connotations: to cheat, for instance, or to make a mistake. When applied to the sexual act, it tends to express lovelessness, casualness, and indifference.

It is a grubby violent word (which is the reason I obscure it when I must make reference to it). There was an attempt to normalize it at one point but it came to nothing. Thirty years on, it is still a stock phrase of shock comedians. Overuse has not softened it, presumably because people do not want it softened, they want a grubby violent world for loveless sex, cheating, and incompetence.

Every word has its baggage and its baggage is what gives it its power, for good or ill. There is a reason that we have to invent clinical words for acts like sexual intercourse that have such powerful emotional overtones (which are in turn reflected in the various words we use to describe them). You should not expect to be able to rob any non-clinical term of its overtones. Nor, frankly, should you wish to. It is the overtones of words that give them their emotional power, which is exactly what you need in fiction.

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I kinda agree - it's a little jarring, even if it is only meant to be a verb, not a curse word. My personal opinion, a word that reflects the world specifically might be a better choice here, creatively speaking.

Also, something to consider: your intended audience. If you intend this for a YA audience, it really should be changed.

  • I agree. If I went into a book that was meant to be a YA fantasy/steampunk (even without the age group this genre still promotes a similar expectation in me) I would not expect to come across that particular word. It being said would take me out of the world and leave me confused. I would wonder what I was actually reading, and if perhaps the book might have been miss shelved. – Cherriey Mar 8 at 12:34
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At one time in history "fuck" meant simply "to fertilize" or "to have sex with". A late middle ages text ran, if i recall correctly "The farmer fucks the seed into the ground", and this was intended as a perfectly straightforward description.

But that is not true of any current English-speaking community. "Fuck" has acquired a connotation of violence, or at least of lovelessness. There are other terms for 'to have sex with" that are not elaborate euphemisms unlikely to be used in the kind of dialog you quote in the question, but without this distracting connotation, or not as much of it.

I would suggest "lay" as one possibility. It also tends to suggest casual sex without romance, but not as strongly as "fuck" and without the violent overtones. Let's try it in soem of the dialog from the question:

"Pahim," snapped Kanéko, "That horrible bastard. I mean... we slept together and what does he do?" Kanéko's voice rose up as rage filled her. "Then he kidnaps me and tries to sell me off like some slave!"

Maris gaped. "You laid Pahim?"

Kanéko gasped, and then blushed hotly. "No! Not like that. I mean, we were in the same bed but we... didn't do anything. I swear!"

In the othe quote "fuck" actually seems appropriate, the speaker intendes the speech to be a bit shocking i think, but consider:

Maris' ears drooped and she looked sad. "And Ruben said you were in trouble. And Pahim smelled like he wanted to lay you. And he's mean. And I don't think he liked you. And I don't hate you."

Other possible verbs: "Spread", "screw", "ravish" (a bit too old-fashioned, perhaps), "do" (as in "He did her"). Ther are quite a few others possible.

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