20 Jun 2012


After THIS POST in which we explored whether or not bookworms adopted the thoughts and feelings of fictional characters I thought this another interesting theory ......

Teen fiction characters who swear are more popular.

According to Science Correspondent Nick Collins writing in The Telegraph 

A study has found 'Popular teenage novels contain hundreds of swear words and the most popular characters are the most foul-mouthed.' Read full article.

Citing such books as the Harry Potter and Twilight series of books, a team from Brigham Young University studying 40 teenage and books designed for young adults stated that their research raised questions on whether books should be given age ratings similar to those used on films and video games to help parents decide whether the reading material was suitable for their child.

The first of its kind to examine swearing in teenage literature, past studies have previously suggested ......
  • American youths use an average of 90 swear words a day.
  • Books may have a stronger effect on learning than other forms of media because they require deliberate attention.


Is it just me that can't help but worry that perhaps we could be on the dangerous slippy-slope to banning books here?

Sounds a bit dramatic? 

Perhaps but reading about banned books on THE SECRET DMS FILES OF FAIRDAY  MORROW site I can't help but think any old excuse will do. I mean if A Light In The Attic by Shel Silverstein can be banned in one US State because a single poem and accompanying illustration suggested that children could get out of washing up the dishes by breaking them what hope is there for books which contain profanities?

Not that I'm convinced that it is the characters who swear the most who are generally portrayed as rich, attractive, and more popular than those who didn't.

Take for instance the Harry Potter books. 

According to Professor Sarah Coyne who led the study in the final two instalments of the series there were six profanities in The Half-Blood Prince and thirteen in the Deathly Hallows including ten 'mild' swear words and three 'strong' swear words.

Now to be honest though I can't say I was shocked by the swear words themselves (which from what I can remember consisted of a few 'bloody's', and possibly the odd 'bloody hell', uttered by Ron Weasley) I do remember commenting that I was surprised by them.

That said, getting back to the Professor's theory, though Ron Weasley is one of the main characters it cannot be said he is rich and it could be argued that he is hardly as attractive or as popular as either Harry or indeed Hermione who I do not recall swearing.

So, does Professor Coyne have a point and books should have an age classification OR is it all of a bit of a storm in a teacup?


NRIGirl said...

Rating on the back cover sounds wonderful - not necessarily for youth fiction - but all books!

Recently I had picked up a book and was shocked by the words used on the first page itself that I dumped it in the nearest garbage can - trust me it was supposedly a cute story of a dog!

Dizzy C said...

Interesting and timely post today, Tracy.

We often have this discussion about swearing in women's fiction books.
I believe that as long as the language is used in context and not overly used I am not offended. The C word is a definate no.

As for teen books, a lot of teens swear as part of their conversation and as today it has been reported that kids are giving up reading by the end of primary, maybe the novels are not all 'up with the times'. Some language would be acceptable to me for my teens to read.


GMR said...

Going with the storm in the tea cup option. Honestly don't remember any swearing in Harry Potter but it could have been lost in translation too. There are many teen books that contain swearing characters and to a degree, they can be distracting...and not in a good way. Do they portray real life? Well, I'm hardly a teen so I suppose I can't honestly answer that one....but they do provide a bad example on some level. I'm not saying ban the books or restrict it to a particular age or above, but a recommended age level such as we do now is probably still appropriate. After that, it's up to the parents.

Kelly said...

The idea of inserting swearing into a book or movie just for ratings or effect has always turned me off. The occasional, purposeful curse word (or cuss word as I always said) doesn't bother me at all. Purposeful as in if a group of teens opened a door and saw a zombie standing there, you know at least one of them is going to blurt out something their mother wouldn't want to hear!

naida said...

Interesting post Petty. I think a rating on YA books would be nice since I've got a 12 year old who likes to read YA, I always monitor the books she chooses. Although its a losing battle as I know these Tweens and Teens curse on a daily basis. I don't know about your neck of the woods, but on television over here the B word is as common as anything else.

I read the HP books and I distinctly remember being shocked that Mrs Weasley yells out the word B*itch during the final fight scene.

Patti said...

I don't think that putting ratings on books leads to banning books. It gives readers and parents an idea of what they can expect. My niece picked up fifty shades of grey, because she'd heard someone say it was a good book. After reading the first little bit, she realized it wasn't for her. As a parent we're suppose to be aware of what our kids are reading, but a rating would certainly be helpful.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

What's funny about the Harry Potter books is that the swearing isn't that relevant in the U.S., because we don't use "bloody" to most readers, it's not really seen as a swear word.

I think ratings would be kind of dangerous...it gives people a greater traction to ban books and I defintiely don't agree with that. I grew up reading all sorts of things but books don't make you do things. it always depends on the person.


carol said...

I didn't realize "bloody" would be considered a swear word.

I think I would be okay with a note on the back of the book, not necessarily age, but more like "contains strong swear words" or "graphic sex scenes," a little bit of warning.

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

I've read books that were beyond my "age" while growing up. I'm glad I wasn't banned from reading them because someone decided that they wanted my parent's job. I also think that swear words give authenticity to the characters and that is why teens tend to like them better.

I also don't like ratings. In the states there was an important documentary that came out about bulling. Kids who should see this to gain knowledge were banned from seeing this (i.e. IN schools) because of the ratings for swearing and violence. THAT was the point. Plus, I agree with you... too close to the slippery slope to banning books.

Heather said...

Swearing for the sake of swearing is just plain wrong no matter the medium. I remember watching a comic who was standing on the stage and all he did was say the 'f' word and the audience went wild, they loved it, so he said it again, they loved it even more. I don't get it. He didn't do anything or say anything of meaning, why did the audience go wild. That word has lost all meaning and significance when it is used like that. used very sparingly and in an appropriate context, swwearing can have a big impact and be a useful tool.

Fairday Morrow said...

What an interesting post! It has certainly given me a lot to think about. I remember a couple curse words in HP- but bloody wasn't one of them! It is not a curse here in the US, so it didn't stand out. I guess where the book is being read can make a difference, too.

I think the most important thing is for parents to be aware of books and what they are comfortable with their child reading. The more parents read the more they can discuss books with their kids. I could read whatever I wanted growing up- and books certainly weren't my first introduction to swearing. I think it is good for kids to make up their minds about what they want to read,and what they think about what they read. Sometimes the characters doing things my parents wouldn't have wanted me to read about helped me to see who I DIDN'T want to be. :)

Such a fascinating topic!
Oh- and thanks so much for mentioning my blog. :)

Brandileigh2003 (Blkosiners Book Blog) said...

Wow. YEah that is a very slippery slope. As far as cursing, I don't think I honestly notcie it but I am also 27 yrs old.

Jeannie said...

I don't think they should censor books. They could put a warning about strong language and the prissy people could then avoid making themselves distraught. I read the Happy Hooker when I was about 12 or 13. I was not inspired to become a sexual deviant or even become sexually active. Kids hear swear words in the real world. A character has to be believable to be popular. The odd swear word makes us all human.

So many books, so little time said...

I hate swearing for the sake of swearing however books like Harry Potter and the use of bloody I wouldn't count as swearing and if we remove everything like that our children will still be exposed out with our houses. I think it is better to teach what is right and wrong (not just with naughty or bad words) and teach our children about why they should use these words than try and hide them.

Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

anilkurup said...

This takes me back to the time when Enid Blyton and other children's fiction writers were around. i do no remember any swear words in Blyton's books.

Well, more than books , if you watch Hollywood stuff these days , especially the ones with teen characters the four letter word is used half the time they speak.

Betty Manousos said...

yet another interesting and so well written article, tracy!

i think putting ratings on books it's good, because it gives the readers an idea of what they can expect to read.

oh, "bloody" would be considered a swear word"? didn't realise that.

Mamakucingbooks said...

I dont really like books wth swear word splatter all over. I don;t mind if there are just some swear wordsin the book bot not nearly every age.

Jenners said...

I say it is a storm in a tea cup. As long as they read, I don't give a flying f**K! ; )