To Curse or Not to Curse: On Pottymouth Blogging

Blogs are all about voice — we respond to a blog when we connect to the person behind it. While tone, style, and formality vary depending on the blogger’s goals, most bloggers hope that their voice comes through clearly.

For some of us, being true to our voices means unleashing the occasional (or not-so-occasional) f-bomb, which can either draw readers in or shoot your blog in the figurative foot. Is there a place for pottymouths in the blogosphere, and how do you decide how much to let fly?

Can you @$^($ and still be a good writer?

Not everyone wants to check in to the Lucky Cuss. Photo by Thomas Hawk,  (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Not everyone wants to check in to the Lucky Cuss. Photo by Thomas Hawk, (CC BY-NC 2.0).

First, some context: I talk — and on my personal blogs, write — like a drunken sailor who was just informed she’s being audited and then got a paper cut from the IRS letter. Also, I’m from New Jersey, where cursing as a second language is taught beginning in the second grade.

While there are plenty of good reasons to keep your bloggy language clean, I also don’t believe that curse words are necessarily the sign of a weak or unimaginative writer (reasonable writers may disagree). Excessive reliance on them may undermine your arguments or drive readers away, but a thoughtfully deployed %&!# can be a thing of beauty; they’re laden with meaning and emotion, so one word can convey a lot of power in an impressively spare way.

Keep it clean

If you’re not sure about indelicate language on a blog your mother reads, you’re not alone — lots of people are uncomfortable about cursing on their sites, and there are real reasons it might not be a great idea, like:


  • It might limit your audience. Consider your subject matter and audience — will cursing work against your message, or make readers less likely to return? Think about a crafting blog aimed at parents and children, or an academically-oriented foreign policy site. If you were explaining something you’d written about to your ideal reader, would you be comfortable cursing?
  • You use your blog as a portfolio. If your blog serves a professional purpose — maybe you use it as a sample when going after other writing gigs, or it’s your online resume — cursing might not be the foot you want to put forward. (There are exceptions, of course, depending on the kind of work or writing you do.)
  • It’s just not your voice. If #*(@% isn’t normally a part of your lexicon, there’s no need for it to be on your blog. When tossing in an f-bomb feels forced, it’ll lack impact; readers won’t respond, and you’ll feel like you compromised something. To thine own self be true.

Who gives a @$^($?

profanityIf you’re not normally a curser, it doesn’t fit your blog, or you dislike seeing them, you might wonder why anyone would ever curse on their site. There’s one big, good reason, and it’s pretty much the same as the reason not to curse:

  • It is your voice. I once wrote a food blog where cursing was a fairly regular occurrence.  The best comment I ever got from a reader was “when I read your blog, it’s like we’re sitting around the kitchen table, having a cup of coffee and talking.” Since my goal in writing the blog was to create a fun, informal experience like having your friends over for dinner, getting that feedback was a huge win.

Curses are also great for stopping people in their tracks. Since curse words are so heavy with meaning, judiciously deploying them creates a dramatic moment. Just as you stop and listen whenever your quiet friend has something to say, a strategic curse makes your readers sit up and pay attention; there’s a reason they call it the f-bomb. Plus, science can’t be wrong:

Physiologically, swearwords induce greater skin conductance responses than do other words, even emotionally evocative words such as death or cancer. (The skin conductance response indicates the extent of a person’s emotional arousal by measuring the degree to which his or her skin conducts electricity.)

From Holy Sh*t: A Brief History of Swearing

Managing pottymouth

So what should you do?I can’t tell you. Sorry! It depends on your comfort level, your goals, and your audience, and there’s no formulaic answer. If you’re on the fence and think you might want to try introducing a &$?#@ or two, here are a few ways to blunt your first foray into cursing:

  • Curse in a foreign language. Foreign-language cursing mitigates some of the bite: for English speakers, “merde!” has a class and elegance that “sh*t!” will never possess. You get to inject your personality and heritage — and make your point — without going the full monty.
  • Keep profanity out of post titles, or replace curse words with symbols*. Curse words in post titles might turn some folks away before they have a chance to read your scintillating thoughts (their loss, I know!), and they can deter some people from sharing your posts with their social networks — it’s one thing to read a blog that curses, another to plaster those curses on your own Facebook feed. (Some people argue that symbols are pointless, because we all know what the word is meant to be… which is true, but symbols do diminish the immediate impact.)
  • Save profanity for after the jump to keep your home page squeaky clean. If your blog’s home page uses post excerpts, you can use them to keep your home page family friendly by making sure any four-letter words require a click.
  • Make it clear — via your “About” page or a widget — that your blog is not for those with delicate constitution. Let people know that your site uses some PG-13 language, so readers can decide whether they’re comfortable.
  • Use a dedicated tag or category for posts with rough language. If you’re typically mild-mannered but get a little salty in certain types of posts, create a category for them.

(Note: this advice is aimed at those who aren’t sure about cursing, or want to mitigate their language. If cursing works for you and your blog and you’re comfortable with it, smoke ’em if you got ’em.)

Every piece of your blog, from your header to your theme to the posts themselves, reinforces your brand. Cursing doesn’t automatically damage a brand — look at mega-bloggers like The Bloggess. Your objectives, natural voice, and tone dictate whether dropping a @*(&#! will send readers running or have them sitting around your kitchen table for another drink.

What do you do on your blog? Do you read bloggers who curse on their sites?

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  1. Very informative post. Thank you for sharing.
    My opinion and practice where my blog is concerned is that if the appropriately placed curse word is done not for its shock value but instaed for its ability to emphasize my point then let it fly!
    Too much of it though can poison your point and leave a reader wondering what your point was in he first place. Excessively cursing in a post only leads one to believe that you are talented at cursing…not talented at writing and getting your perspective across. If all a reader wishes to hear is #@!* and %*@@# then they could just as easily hop in a rig with a truck driver tune in to the cb and get an ear full (please do not take that staement as a deragatory remark agiast truck drivers …just using the old stereotype to make a point folks 😉 ).
    However its just plain ad simply at imes to use a curse wod or two to drive the point home or emphasize how emphatic you truly are about something.
    Soooo, have a d@mn nice day and may your weekend be awesomey b@#ching!!!


  2. I tend to naturally curse, but I’m also aware as someone in the process of writing a YA book that doing so on my blog might not be appropriate (some parents might get upset). So, it’s a hard call. When I do curse now, I do try to replace with symbols when I remember to, or to use silly variations that also get the point across without the potentially jarring effect.


  3. I like the idea of attaching a tag to a post with questionable language. I do swear once in a while, more often when I speak as oppose to when I write. Sometimes a curse word is the only word that fits for me. The idea of a tag is a great way to be sensitive of the readers. Thanks for the tip. 🙂


  4. If the subject matter warrants it to emphasize a point or an emotion I have no issue with it. I dropped the F bomb on one post of mine out if about 10 . The subject matter warranted it in my opinion and I meant the sentence with every fiber of my being. Otherwise, I tend to not curse. If its your voice then be yourself.


  5. I don’t curse on my blog. Reason? Why should I do it? I prefer clean language. I think a point should be made based on good arguments and solid reasoning. Cursing can be a good outlet for yourself, but doensn’t do anything to build the argument and only adds to fire up the discussion with less arguments and more attacks on the person himself.


  6. I am a professional in some parts of my life, while in others, I am simply not. I like swearing..A lot. But when I am in pleasant company or at my job or on college my college campus, I am a good girl and don’t swear.


  7. Growing up in an area where “bad words” were considered to be a non-remarkable part of everyday speech, my natural language does include a certain level of questionable words. I’ve always been amused by people who considered that to be a mark of intelligence though (or lack of) since most of us have college degrees now.

    I’ve also noticed that there are some people who are just trying to find something to get offended over, and people don’t always agree on what’s offensive. I once saw a woman cover her child’s ears and throw a friend of mine a dirty look because she overheard him say his girlfriend was “ragging” him about something. That must have been a bad word in her book, but not to either of us.

    That said, I know there are people who put a lot of weight on words so I tend to censor myself in public or when talking to people that I don’t know very well. I absolutely refuse, however, to censor myself on my own blog. I pay a monthly fee to maintain it as a personal outlet for my thoughts, and that’s what it will be. Anyone who reads the “About” page gets fair warning.

    As for reading other peoples’ blogs, if it’s generally well written and/or contains interesting subjects I’ll read it without thinking twice about whatever colorful language the author chooses.


  8. I avoid swearing on all of my social media. People like my mom, mother in law, young cousins, etc. follow me and I try to keep it clean.


  9. I try to conserve my curse words and only bring them out when any other word won’t do – I think using them conservatively allows those words to make their intended impact when I do decide to detonate the f-bomb. I know I’ve hit the mark when I get comments from readers telling me that they laughed out loud, but thought “that was so wrong”. When I make people laugh in spite of themselves, it’s a major win.

    That being said, I have gotten some flack about my potty mouth – almost exclusively from older relatives. But in the end, I have to write in my own voice, and forget about the fact that my family is reading over my shoulder. I may curb my language at Thanksgiving dinner, but my blog is like my house – you don’t like it, then you can get the fuck out, Grandma.


  10. I’ve given this a lot of thought, but it comes down to two things for me: I am profane in real life, and this blog is ultimately for Future Kidling. Parenting is hard. Seriously f*cking hard. I want Future Kidling to see the beauty, joy, and absurdity of life as a parent in full color.


    1. How cool that someone else has the same idea as me. Or I have the same idea as you. Whatever. I have been writing a column for a local newspaper for the past 15 years. The boys are 20-18 and the daughter is 37. Not much intertest yet but I keep hoping ergo I am transisting to the Blogosphere.


      1. Which name is that? It is amazing how few of my original thoughts are both original and unique. I tend to find that someone has gotten to them before me. 🙂 Glad I’m not the only one!


  11. I try not to curse, but sometimes it really is necessary. Most of the time, I do #)%( it out, but I like the idea of just using a foreign language – that’s F)@#(%ing brilliant. 😉


  12. I have often been told, there is a time to curse and there is a time not to curse. I think that it really matters what the situation is and what your feelings toward the situation are.


  13. Why the hell would everybody get upset about a bit of swearing. Why is everyone so opposed to seeing the grit in life. I thought blogging was a place to be real. Life is not true without a mixture of light and dark, shade and colour. Sometimes it is needed to enhance the feeling and passion.