The use of epithets in your writing.
Curse words or "cuss" words were originally just that—it was believed that if someone exclaimed something truly terrible about you out loud, or even worse—wrote it, that you were then "cursed" and might need to seek some elaborate means to break the curse placed upon you. Apparently, there are still a few people who believe this may be true .
Modern curse words are different from older ones, from ancient ones. Over time, as we realize they are nothing but words spoken in the heat of the moment or used as emphasis, they have literally lost their power over us. You may find it absurd to know that at one point in time, the word "trousers" was considered extremely naughty in the English language. Yes, we have referred to undies as "unmentionables" for the very reason that only a cad, a perveted scoundrel would dare to call them anything else...and these days that just strikes us a absolutely ridiculous. Who's afraid of calling pants "pants"?
In the past, the word breast was quite acceptable blurted in the midst of conversation when referring to woman's bosom or even a man's chest, and in this day and age some people insist on cuter, less aggressive forms of the word like boobies or bosumbas. Once an offending word is lessened by making up a more juvenile-sounding replacement for it, it is already on its way to losing any power it had over the easily offended.
As a child, I was told endlessly to shut up by my parents and other family members. To my knowledge this was not a curse word or dirty word, but merely a means of insisting that someone be quiet, now. Imagine my surprise when, in my twenties, I told a co-worker to shut up so I could get a word in edgewise during a casual conversation, and her jaw dropped, her eyes widened, and she reacted as though I'd just backhanded her across the face. Because I was used to the phrase, it never occurred to me that someone else might find it highly offensive. I stopped tossing the phrase out so thoughtlessly after that because I considered this woman an intelligent, good-natured person and had no wish to offend her or anyone else like her ever again. Ironically, "shut up" has been incoporated into the language of some of the younger generation in place of, "no way", "Oh, my God", or, "I can't believe that!"
In my mind, taking the Lord's name in vain relates directly to the pharoahs who would claim godhood as their right of ascencion to power. They called themselves "god" out of vanity. To most of the people I've run into , it means, don't use phrases like, "Oh, my God." Taking and using are two different actions. If I take the name Leopold, then you may assume I'm making legal means to assure that will be my name from now on. If I use the name Leopold, then it suggests I am either saying it aloud, or using it for myself for a temporary event. Maybe it's a pen name. So, if I used the name Leopold for a temporary event in vain...then perhaps I am masquerading as Leopold, who I believe to be better than myself? When I blurt, "Oh, my God," I always say it in a situation where I wouldn't mind if God was my witness as to whatever's going on at the moment. I am literally calling upon my Lord that he might note the situation and if necessary act on it in the best interest of everyone present. So...how is that vain? It would be no more vain than if I dropped to my knees abruptly and began praying for the situation to change. In essense, calling upon the Lord in this manner is nothing more than a quick form of prayer. But, If I take the Lord's name in vain, it suggests I am attempting to become God or become like Him in some way. Some pagans perform a ritual known as Invoking The Spirit wherein they actually attempt to draw the essence of the deity of their choice within themselves so they may act out certain events as that actual deity. Certainly there is no question that falls smack into the definition of taking the Lord's name in vain...whatever lord or lady you might be referring to. Thus, the Commandment seems to indicate that pretending to be or acting in the name of God is a sin, but I'm unconvinced it means I cannot utter my creator's name in moments of distress. You're going to have to come to your own conclusion on that one. And OMG is just as bad as blurting the words if you are offended by them being uttered aloud. It's a cuter form, which robs of it of its initial power, yet is still offensive to those who think there's a Commandment saying you'lll go to Aich Ee Double Hockey Sticks if you use it wrong.
For the purposes of blogging and other public forums, I am guilty of using the annoying symbolism form of cussing so popular in comic strips. #(*^$&*!!! means nothing in particular, except that the speaker just said something undoubtedly offensive to some segment of the population. Interestingly, this form of epithet brings home the fact that swears and cusses are really nothing more than expressions of emphasis used in the heat of passion, whether it be the heated romantic kind, the I'm in pain kind, or the something unpleasant kind. Swears also become comical when inserted into regular, dispassionate conversation. This is when I watch my religious, anti-swear word boss clap his hands over his mouth and turn bright red with mirth when he sees me trying to converse professionally with a casual swearer.
F%*k! Or F%$#! or variations of this are merely annoying, because it's all too easy to see what the intended word is and automatically translate it within our minds. I've heard stories that the F word is supposed to be an anagram or something that had to do with shortening a police phrase in California during the mid to late 1800's. However, the word pops up earlier than that and in European countries, with no other meanings than we ones we associate with it now, and so the origin, for now, remains lost. It has so many uses, it's very easy to substitute for.
Damn has lost its edge because of over-use and comical placement. I don't know that anyone still believes that if I use the word aloud, I will be damned, or can actually cause another to be damned, but if your audience is of the easily offended variety, it's best to leave it from your repertoire.
The S word has become quite well adapted to comical use over the years, and now I'm going to reveal to you something fascinating...feces are universally recognized as bad. By universal, I mean that even in the animal kingdom, the worst insult is to throw feces or suggest that something is no better than feces. Monkeys and apes are famous for throwing feces at people or animals they don't like. Cats will step gingerly over the expensive new cat food you bought, then mimic the action of pawing litter over it to let you know they think the stuff you put in their bowls is terrible. Yes, some animals suffer copraphagia and think poop is the best treat ever, and zoologists and veterinarians are beginning to see the value of some juvenile animals devouring the feces of their parents in an effort to assimilate good bacteria into their digestive systems, but if you describe something to me as S—, I know it probably won't make me smile. The odd bit here being that there are people I know who now use the word in its reverse sense and proclaim themselves The S—! if they feel successful at something, and some people are using it interchangeably with the word stuff, as in, "This s— is bad!" Which, we interpret as, "This stuff is awesome!" It seems to be a juvenile trait of humans to use a word in its opposite meaning as an emphasis. Therefore, the beach in August is a cool place to go, and this new flavor of ice cream is really hot! Why kids do this is unbeknownst to me, but it smacks of their rebellious tendencies and often causes some general merriment before the older generations figure out how to use it and therefore eliminate its initial coolness.
You can invent new epithets simply by using them. Any word or phrase you use regularly in the stead of what some might consider a bad word thus becomes your personal epithet. My anti-bad word boss blurts out, "My word!" frequently when surprised by something because he doesn't want to go to hell for accidentally distracting God, I guess. The point is, he's using a word to substitute for a word, and we all know exactly what word he'd be using if he was just a little more relaxed. At work, I clean up my act a tad, commenting, "Oh, poo!" Or, "Caca!", or describe something as "Freakin'" in order to emphasize it. Who am I kidding? Nobody. Everyone adopts that secret little, "I know what you really meant to say smile", and we all pretend it's okay. Think of it this way; it's likely every word that offends you is a current substitution for another word. S— is feces. F—is sex but also has a broad range of other meanings, C— is vagina, T— is breast, a rooster is what we refer to a penis as, a relatively mild acute pain caused by sudden focused rupturing of the epidermas is also a penis, a female dog refers to a difficult female human...although I've never noticed any female dogs that were especilly more difficult than any males. On that note, I've read that the female attendents of the temple of Zeus Lukaios (Zeus in wolf form in ancient Rome) were referred to as bitches. They were akin to or actually were priestesses of some reknown, thus calling an ancient Roman woman a bitch might have been a compliment to her. See how our perception of what's offensive and what is not changes over time?
Many people find it hard to even use medical terms for anatomy. I can't think of anything more sterile than describing my naughty bits to my physician, but some people prefer to awkwardly utilize juvenile terms, so their peepee burns, or they have itching around their bum-hole. Peepee can refer both to the organ urine comes out of and the liquid itself. Maybe that's why I'm waiting so long to be seen when I'm not feeling well...some forty-three year old sissy might be squirming in a paper tunic on a padded table using the terminology of a three-year old just to make it known he has erectile dysfunction disorder.
There is a time and place for the words that offend you. When I pray, I say God, and maybe even, "My God," or, "O, Lord...." and don't fear eternal damnation because of it. When I'm at the doctor's office, I want my visit short and sweet, and no doctor I'm aware of is offended by the correct names for anatomy or anatomical functions no matter what you're describing. As to how you want to present yourself in public situations or at home, well that's a matter of personal preference. Many people insist that swearing is unprofessional, but I couldn't count the number of highly successful, wildly wealthy people I know who swear casually even in professional settings. Likewise, you can enter a jail or even a psychiatric facility and find a few individuals who refuse to use off-color language. It has more to do with religious belief than social boundaries. And yet there are words some people think of as bad words within the bible itself...go figure.
So far as writing goes, well it's a matter of taste and depends upon the audience you're going for. I wouldn't put it in a children's book, but I could see some of the weaker words cropping up in young adult works. Why is it worse for a child to know swear words than an adult? We consider it a matter of taste. Ideally, we expose our kids to the best of life and encourage them to adopt the habits and functions of upstanding, well-heeled citizens so that they might enjoy better lives and ultimately help to create a better world for all. Realistically, most kids are exposed to a lot more than we realize at very early ages and begin making personal choices early on. If we teach them what's right and what's wrong, we hope to encourage them toward the best life path possible, and what's wrong might include some rather innocuous things like nose-picking, public farting, and blurting the occasional bad word. Personally, I try to write as realistically as possible, and 95% of the people I know or know of use swears to some degree. The audience I have in mind for my books is not much different than myself, so I don't pull punches with them. I'm not writing Christian fiction here.
And speaking of Christian fiction, what I find is that rather than use direct, emphatic epithets to get points across immediately, the characters in such books seem to waste pages and even whole chapters at times just trying to sort their feelings and figure out what another character is really tring to communicate to them through their gentled speech and mannerisms. This is why I'm no fan of Christian fiction. I like my stories to the point. Emotional sappiness turns everything I'm reading decidedly feminine and robs the story of good action oriented time. I prefer kid's books and young adult fiction any day to Christian fiction because the authors are able to forge ahead with their stories sans the emotional angst and the epithets! I'm sure there are plenty of good Christian fiction writers out there. I just haven't run across any I've liked yet. Then again, I am not their target audience, so why should they care?
And that's the point of all this. Using swear words in your writing will probably steer your works toward specific audience groups and away from others. If you want to write stories with universal appeal, your best bet is to tone down the foul language or eliminate it completely. If you write stories about biker gangs terrorizing small towns in the midwest, they'll feel unnatural without swears in them. If your bikers are a Christian group that does rides for charity, well you might run into one guy or gal with a comically foul mouth, but for the most part you'll be writing a much cleaner story. Go for realism whenever possible. Consider your target audience. Use common sense. Really understand your characters like a good actor would and decide how they'd dress and talk and react within the storyline. If you're unable to elevate your vocabulary above a second-grade level, don't write about crime scene forensics or medical dramas. Not every New York cop has a foul mouth. Not every altar boy is clean as a whistle. Some serial killers are extremely conservative and even God-fearing. Some six year old girls talk like angry, drunken, Irish sailors. There's no need to fear language—it's all a matter of personal taste. And don't judge others because what's offensive to you may not be offensive to them...you might just be old-fashioned by anybody's standards...or maybe even ahead of your time.