Today is the Lord’s Day so I won’t engage in any posting of wicked and evil news for it is known that all journalists are servants of one devil or another, and reading their shrieking incantations for too long is a sure path to damnation and mental retardation. Instead, I’ll write about swearing in writing and the word fuck.
A few hours ago, in a sudden masochistic impulse, I went to the website of the science fiction & fantasy magazine Uncanny and clicked on their latest story. I read a few sentences and, as expected, recoiled in horror. But something else happened: I became painfully aware of something that, although I had noticed before, I had never managed to hold onto as a concrete thought: these fucking fuckers swear too fucking much.
Seriously, every single writer from this new-new-new-sci-fi fashionable world seems to suffer from coital coprolalia. From that story, Old Habits:
Ghost malls are even sadder than living people malls, even though malls of the living are already pretty damned sad places to be. And let me get this out of the way right now, before we go any farther; I’m dead, okay? I’m fucking dead. This is not going to be one of those stories where the surprise twist is and he was dead! I’m not a bloody surprise twist. I’m just a guy who wanted to buy a necktie to wear at his son’s high school graduation.
First of all, this is awful. Second, it’s further, not farther (well, OK, it’s ambiguous.) Third, you don’t do literary meta-commentaries in the first paragraph of your story unless you want me to stop caring about it. If I read “this is not going to be one of those stories,” I will stop reading immediately.
Put to the point: “I’m fucking dead”? Why would that expletive add anything to the story? If anything, it clearly detracts. One would guess death would make one less likely to use coarse language, but apparently not. I can’t imagine a quicker way to destroy a ghostly or supernatural entity that said entity going all fucking fuckity fuckery. For example, let us render the Ghost & Hamlet interaction to modern language and sensibilities:
Hamlet: Where are you taking me? Speak, I’m not going any farther.
Ghost: Just fucking listen to me.
Hamlet: I fucking will.
Ghost: My hour is almost come, when I will render myself to the fucking flames.
Hamlet: Ah, poor ghost!
Ghost: Pity me not, you fuck! Just fucking listen carefully to what I have to tell you.
Hamlet: Speak. I am bound to hear.
Ghost: You must be ready for fucking revenge, too, when you hear me out.
Hamlet: Fucking what?
Ghost: I’m thy father’s fucking spirit. Doomed for a certain term to walk the fucking night. […]
And so on and so forth.
Now, it’s not the first time I have noticed this linguistic quirk. For example, when I reviewed “Our [Fucking] Talons Can Crush [Fucking] Galaxies” I wrote:
What’s more, “fuck” and its many variations appear five times in this short, three-pages story. Keep in mind that this is, theoretically, written from the point of view of an immortal and all-powerful goddess who, nonetheless, talks like a foul-mouthed teenager seething with impotent rage and serious emotional issues. In fact, if this had been written by a male and from the point of view of a young man, I’d assume it was about a mass shooter in the making.
Also, coincidentally (I just realized it):
starting with the first sentence, which is an attempt at criticizing the morbid fascination of contemporary media with the victims of horrible crimes (as if a multidimensional goddess would care about that): “This is not the story of how he killed me, thank fuck.”
I’m sensing a pattern here, an… uncanny pattern [*winks clumsily at the screen]
How bad, how fucking bad, is this? Well, pretty fucking bad I’d say! I googled “fuck* site:uncannymagazine.com” and it vomited 116 results. A few are from editorials (yeah, the editors there swear a lot) and I guess a few others may be from comments (but there aren’t many) but the majority seem to be from the stories themselves. And it’s not just the characters who say it a lot, it’s also the Narrator (sure, in the first person, but still…)!
Compare that result with Heroic Fantasy Quarterly: just 4 fucking hits, and there are 35 entire issues, with hundreds of stories, to read there. Or Beneath Ceaseless Skies, 46 results. I’d also use places like Tor.com but there are too many comments and articles that are not fiction proper, but if anyone wants to know the number, it’s 3390. That’s a lot of fucking for a science fiction and fantasy magazine, and at this rate of cultural expansion of Fuck!, I’m expecting Times and CNN to start using the word any moment now.
But what’s the point of all this fuckery? It’s not even funny fuckery, that demands art and style, it’s just tryhard. They are emphatic fucks, which add little but subtracts a lot due to overuse and shrinking of language. What is the point of any of this in a fucking short story of fucking fantasy:
I am a literal nightmare, motherfucker,
and that’s fine with me.
That’s uh… that’s supposed to be a poem, by the way.
He was shaking with desire. And he was terrified. If he danced, they would laugh at him.
‘Fucking fag,’ snarled Trump, spinning on his heel.
Ah, yes, Trum… wait, what? A Trump Christmas Carol, by Roz Kaveney, Laurie Penny, John Scalzi, and Jo Walton. That explains it.
The Hydraulic Emperor, by Arkady Martine:
The liquor shone on the inside of his lower lip. We were both watching the crowd. It’s funny, the habits you fall into. Give me ten more minutes and I’d have matched my respiratory pace to his, just out of the fucking familiarity.
What is the point of that choice of phrase? It’s so silly I can only laugh.
How to Survive an Epic Journey, by Tansy Rayner Roberts:
I know what you’re thinking right now. You’re thinking, “What is the worst possible thing Jason could have done to sabotage this difficult and sensitive task?”
How exactly did Jason of Thessaly fuck it up?
Yeah, tell me more about Jason and his fucking Argonauts. I love me some fucking Greek mythology.
Keep in mind that these stories usually have more than one use of the expletive, always silly and unnecessary. Also, if some naive reader stumbled upon this post without knowing the significance of Uncanny, keep in mind that the magazine (for some mystifying reason) is always nominated for the most fucking prestigious awards.
I can already hear the usual howling: “Why are you curtailing our style! That’s how people talk!” First of all, you have no style, which is why all your stories are the same and you have to pad them out with fucks, references to Trump, and silly nonsense. And, in any event, I’ll let Theodore Dalrymple speak for me (from his piece I also learned the phrase I have used for this post’s title):
In the prison in which I worked until my retirement, I used not to allow the prisoners to employ the word—not that I had any means to prevent them from doing so other than suasion.
“I’ve got a fucking headache,” a prisoner-patient would say to me.
“Hang on a moment,” I would say. “Can you tell me what the difference is between a headache and a fucking headache?”
As it happens, there is a condition known as coital cephalgia, a headache that comes on during sexual intercourse, but that is not what he meant.
“That’s the way I talk,” he would say.
“Yes, I know,” I would reply. “That’s what I’m complaining of.”
The more intellectually curious would then ask why he should desist.
“Well,” I would reply, “you wouldn’t expect me to say to you, ‘Here are some fucking pills, now fuck off and take two of the fuckers every four fucking hours and if they don’t fucking work, come the fuck back and I’ll give you some other fuckers,’ would you?
Well, that’s what I ask you, dear fucking writers: What’s the difference between “just out of the familiarity” and “fucking familiarity”? And you wouldn’t expect me to review your fucking stories saying they are fucking fucked and that you should go the fuck back to learn how to fucking write, right?
Of all the places one would expect to see useless, filler swearing, and it’s in fucking Hugo and Nebula finalists (The City Born Great, by N. K. Jemisin, has 31 fucks to give)!
And, no, it doesn’t make you transgressive, natural, mature, or whatever inane justification you say to yourselves. It’s just bad writing, a simplistic and simplifying use of language that constricts meaning until everybody talks and writes like some petulant, childish, vainglorious Hugo finalist. See? I could have just said “like a fucking Hugo finalist” but that would be a restriction of language and thought, as it shrinks and impoverishes your mental thesaurus since every aspect of a thing, whether positive or negative, can be described, emphasized, or qualified with a “fuck,” but nothing of value is learned or signified with that.
It’s really not a coincidence that, in retrospect, every story I have loathed from this batch/generation of writers is cluttered with “fucks.” It amounts to a badge and a sign of incompetence, although I’m sure they think it’s a sign of sophistication and enfant terribilism.