We as writers spend ridiculous amounts of time removing excessive that, was, just, even, like, has, and other verbal ticks like adverbs and favorite adjectives and quantifiers from our writing. We know that when people read, those kind of repetitious words and phrases stick out and mess with the flow of a reading experience.Read the whole thing. Anyone who has seen an interesting concept ruined by a surfeit of four-letter words understands Whipple's point. The entire reason for profanity is to transgress, to violate a boundary and therefore show something meaningful about a character or situation. But when we make it normative through endless repetition, we undercut its very purpose. Sparing use shocks; overabundance numbs. The Wall Street Journal's Nancy deWolf Smith sees the principle in action in the new hardboiled television drama Justified (which, for those interested in personal ephemera, happens to be set in my hometown). "As for four-letter words," she writes, "they're in refreshingly short supply on [the show], which doesn't need them to telegraph something rough and raw." And there's where the writer's craft comes in. We can communicate more about transgression through a sideways glance or a hand on a holster than all the obscenities in the world.
Why does cussing sometimes get such an obvious free pass?
To me, swearing is like caviar or a really good bleu cheese -- a little goes a long way. You don't need it on every page to establish your book's tone. It just gets old, honestly. And then when a writer uses it when it should have had weight, it doesn't. It's just filler. "Edgy" filler.
(Picture: CC 2007 by Billie Hara; Hat Tip: Nathan Bransford - Literary Agent)