I’m not very sensitive to foul language unless it is excessively body function-y and/or so evocative that the metaphoric intent is eclipsed. I curse a lot, and my characters tend to think in swears. When we lived in Athens, Ohio our downstairs neighbor was a British radio DJ named Mike and he used some very colorful language. One day while raving about conniving American Dentists and his need to find a clean recording of “Tallahassie Lassie,” he referred to his rotted tooth as a “dirty foreskin.” This after he insisted Dean examine his mouth with a flashlight. Made sense, as Dean has a PhD in Poetics. I don’t think I threw Mike out of the apartment, but I might’ve come close.
I’m thinking about dirty words, partly because my current fiction workshop is pretty swear-y, and I’ve taken no steps to control it. To be honest, I hardly notice, except when one of the women in the class makes a face. My class is made up of 4 women, 17 men—the men do all the swearing. The women don’t swear, but they write about rape and childbirth in ways that make the men squirm. I had a filthier workshop a few years ago—again, it was men doing the swearing, but in that instance it seemed obvious that the f-bombs were being dropped as a nervous reaction to the presence of assertive Muslim women in the class. The English major is now more diverse, but not too long ago the presence of opinionated women in scarves scared the living shit out of our usual population of fat athletes, ADHD preppies, and the home-school refugees.
My current class is pretty sweet though, despite the fact that they should not be kissing their mothers with those mouths. For example, they know that phlegm imagery makes me gag, so if the subject comes up (and you’d be surprised how often it does), they substitute specific references with the letter X—as in, “He wiped the X from his face.” I feel guilty about that, but only a little.