F is for…F*^K! & Other "Shameful" Words: Cursing in YA

Controversial Song of the Day: “F*^K You” by Cee-Lo Green


For the entire month of April, we’ll be participating in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Our theme for the month? CONTROVERSIAL TOPICS IN YA. Check out the link above for other awesome blogs participating.

Taken from byu.edu

Curse words. So many of us use them. Yet, when they are written in a book for teens, people complain. 


I hear my students curse all the time. Most of them don’t think that I can hear them; however, some of them are fully aware that they are cursing in front of adults and they just don’t care. 


Swear words have become a normal part of teenage vernacular. So, why should we not use them in our novels? Of course having the “F” word in every sentence is a little unnecessary, but dropping the “F” bomb every now and then in a YA novel is not the end of the world–at least it shouldn’t be.


Pam and I don’t shy away from using foul language. I even have a couple curse words in my historical novel–hey, people swore in the early 1900s, believe me. 


This topic has come up on several blogs before and it is still considered to be controversial. Here are a few older blog posts where you can read about this topic and gauge just how long it’s been going on:


Kidlit.com (from 2010)
Literaticat.blogspot.com (from 2011)
YAtopia.blogspot.com (from 2011)


For those of you that are completely against cursing in YA and you only want to read “clean” novels, here are a few popular YA novels that have NO curse words (according to the Interwebz) in them:


*The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan


*Chime by Franny Billingsley


*Divergent by Veronica Roth


*The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson


*The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins


You tell us: do you write a lot of swear words in your YA novels? Do you think YA novels should be free of curse words? Finally, can you think of any realistic contemporary YA that is completely swear-free??

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9 thoughts on “F is for…F*^K! & Other "Shameful" Words: Cursing in YA

  1. I don't really notice cussing/lack of cussing too much, unless there's a lot of it (cussing, that is, not lack of). The same goes for adult books. If it seems realistic to the character/setting, etc., then no problem. If it sounds like the author only added it as filler words, it tends to stand out more.

  2. Swearing in books doesn't bother me but I wonder how many authors censor themselves as far as swearing goes especially when writing about difficult topics. I went to a panel last year on LGBT issues in kid lit and the authors talked about how swearing in novels gave schools/libraries and excuse to keep the books off the shelves.

  3. Awesome blog post! It took me forever to think of something that started with F, and I can't believe I didn't think of the ol' F Bomb. One of my favorite words :)I think a YA book without swear words is like a high school with no teenagers. Teens swear. I've seen many more instances of an author using the swear words in a way to make the book better, than littering them in for the sake of having them and making it worse. So I say keep the effing F bombs. 😉

  4. It's all about context. Sure, teens (and adults) IRL use these words, but to different degrees – some use them constantly because their vocabulary is so limited they have nothing else, some use them sporadically but oh-so-effectively, and some use them to shock and awe; is it right for the character? That's always the question I ask.

  5. I once said the S word in front of a kid that I mentor. The crisis that I was swearing about didn't seem to bother her. She just kept on saying, "You didn't say shoot" over and over again. She honestly didn't think I knew that word.Oh, and if used approperately in a manner that matches the characters, I'm all for fowl language in YA.

  6. What's interesting about categorizing what "clean" means, is what is considered accepatable as long as there are "no swears." The Forest of Hands and Teeth has an extremely disturbing scene involving an infant zombie. I was actually pretty shocked it made it into the book, although it helped solidify this zombie infestation was real bizess and not just a campy tween take on the genre. It always perplexed me how swearing is bad but violence is acceptable.This pairs perfectly with the controversy about "Bully," the documentary film being released today, with wider release later this month. The doc got rated R by the MPAA because the F word was used too many times past what the ruling board qualifies for PG-13. Finally, just a few days ago, a re-edited version that kept only 3 instances of the F word was allowed to be given PG-13. The issue here is that to remove the word would not accurately show how severe the kids in this film were bullied. And the whole point of the film is to educate on how damaging bullying is. Getting a lower rating was key to being able to eventually show the film in schools as an educational tool.So anyway, it's interesting that saying F@#$ x number of times = R rating but extreme violence and objectification of women frequently get a pass.

  7. I use a lot of colorful language in my real life, and in my books. But I did as a teen! I think so long as curse words aren't gratuitous, they are fine in YA. I know many people don't agree with me, though.

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