Friday 20 February 2015

How many fucks were given?

[this leads into opining about bad language in books in general]

I recently had a question asked on Goodreads about whether the use of 'feck' instead of 'fuck' in Prince of Thorns was a kind of accent or a kind of censorship.

I answered:

Accent. There are 15 fecks in the book and 8 fucks. In a book where a bishop gets nails hammered into his head there's no need to censor swearing.

And having counted(*) the number of fucks in Prince of Thorns I went on to repeat the process with all the books in Broken Empire and Red Queen's War trilogies.

(*) i.e gone Cntrl-F "fuck" in the Word document and looked at the number.

So here for your viewing pleasure are the fucks (and fecks) given in my books to date. Note this includes 'fucked', 'fucking' too.

A quick perusal indicates that we have yet to reach peak fuck.

(EDIT: with Red Sister added it seems that The Wheel of Osheim may well have been peak fuck!)

As a footnote: my most recently completed book (The Wheel of Osheim) contains as many fucks in one paragraph of the prologue as are contained within the whole of Prince of Thorns.

(click for detail)

But wait - there's more!

The discrepancy between the tolerance for sex and for violence in books has often been remarked upon. Even by me. But when you think about it the intolerance of 'bad' language is perhaps even more strange.

I saw one review of Prince of Thorns where the reader loved the book but lamented the bad language. There was, he said, a 'fuck' every other paragraph.

Actually, if you run the numbers there's a 'fuck' every 47 pages - which, if nothing else, shows how strongly the issue distorts perception.

However, more surprising to me is the fact the person could read about murder after murder, read allusions to burnings alive, rape, and torture, and yet be unphased until someone opens their mouth and says 'fuck'.


That's a problem but the rest is fine? Everything is good so long as we're polite about it?

I find it wholly bizarre when we enter a fantasy world where ever single word is spoken in English with the same meaning ... until someone hits their thumb with a hammer, and it's "Storms!" or "By the Pit!" or some such... It seems the only difference between the folk of many fantasy worlds and regular humans is that they utter different profanities. Also the whole, no needing to go to the toilet thing.

I've met people in real life who are literally unable to get through a single sentence without using the word 'fuck'. There's a guy like that on the show 'Gold Rush' - a miner up in Alaska, an older guy with a beard you could lose a baby in ...  there are people like him all over - they use 'fuck' as punctuation, as filler, and as verbal garnish. If one of them were a major character in a book I wrote then the fuck-count would zip past 37 and probably top 370.

I think the ability to read about terrible people doing terrible things, but to freak out if one of them says a rude word, is related to the sex-violence dichotomy but an even more exacerbated example of it.

Anyway, what's up with that? Comments welcome if you have an explanation!

[this article has a fuck-count of 15 ... well ... 16 now.]


  1. Hahahah this is funny! In my 200 pages so far not even a single fuck or shit. I need to really work on it or people will think I'm censoring. Then again I'm writing the nobility and their glorious deeds. Once I head into the sleazy part of town where the whorehouses line the street behind the docks, I'm sure there will be some drunken sailors cussing around.

    So does The Wheel of Osheim start in the dockside brothel or something?

  2. I thought for sure I'd never use that word in my books, since I just never use it or really hear it used much in my life...but then I wrote a book about Russian mobsters and all that had to go right out the window!

  3. And yet you're still tame compared to Abercrombie or Morgan. Not that it's a bad thing, of course, and your books hit the spots just right, I think.

  4. It is a strange pride to have inspired a blog post by an author I respect highly. I agree with what's been said about squealing at "fuck", meanwhile not (if you pardon the pun) giving a fuck about the violence, or other more important matters in whatever it is being displayed. I also use fuck (usually spanish equivalents) practically as a comma, and a lot of the people around me do.

  5. Tony Beets is the FUCKING FUCKER'S NAME! Don't you fuckers forget it or I'll be back to make this place look like a fucknado passed through en route to greater fuckery than mortal man can imagine.

    Cause what's important here is what I decided is fucking important, see. Everything is related to my experience of things, and my tolerance for fucksticky thinking like this is fucktastically over-fucked.


  6. I am a mom so I have to curb my tongue at home. I love profanity in books because it gives my filthy mouth an outlet... it sounds terrible, yeah... I know.

  7. I agree with you Mark. It's funny how the swearing taboo is so blown out of proportion. It's interesting to see TV shows that frequently display sex, violence, and drug use, but curb the swearing because it's considered "offensive".

    I can't help but think of that stereotypical parenting to engrave in a child that swearing is extremely offensive. While definitely a valid point to make to a child; some of that must contribute to this taboo.

  8. I actually think the use of swears is well-placed. It seems appropriate and helps build a character's image and develops them further. Agreed on how swearing is blown out of proportion as compared to other relatively taboo topics.

  9. Okay, I don't know weather my net is being weird or this site slow, seeing as how I can't see my previous comment. So, here I go again.

    For my degree I did an analysis of my mother language (Slovenian), for the next one I'm doing a dummy text generator. What I'm saying is that I have a lot of self-written programs that can analyze texts. So, I simply threw POT in the program and added a list of English curses that I pulled of Wikipedia.

    The program created a list of words and checked how many of those words start with the curses.
    curse: fuck
    check every word in the list that begins with cluster of letters: FUCK.

    the actual raw cusswords (from Wikipedia) used:
    ass 10
    bastard 34
    hell 41
    shit 16
    goddamn 0
    arse 0
    fuck 8
    bloody 19
    damn 19
    bitch 9
    godsdamn 0
    bollocks 0
    asshole 0
    Jesus 0
    cunt 0
    motherfucker 0

    words used in:
    assembling 1
    fucking 1
    fuck 4
    bastards'll 1
    bloody 19
    assigned 1
    bitch 9
    damnation 1
    hell 32
    shit 15
    bastard 23
    assassination 1
    damn 15
    hellfire 3
    assured 1
    associate 1
    assistant 1
    assault 1
    bastards 10
    fucked 2
    hells 1
    fuckit 1
    assume 2
    shitdarn 1
    hello 5
    assassin 1
    damned 3

    I see you have a quite a couple of words that start with the word ASS, but no actual ASSes. Weird. Nevermind.

    This literally took me less than 2min. I feel awesome, this shit I wrote is obviously useful for other stuff than first intended.
    So, if you wish, I can do this for the rest of your work. If you wish I can do this for some other work if you want to compare. I just need something to convert to TXT file and that is it.
    My programer version of fanart, I guess. XD

  10. Mark, I just discovered your blog today by way of Reddit. I recently finished Prince of Thorns and loved it, by the way! I'm a slow reader, but I'm looking forward to reading the rest.

    This is a timely subject for me. I'm a self-published writer of some modest success, and I mentor other up-and-coming authors. If there's any question I'm asked more than any other, it's this: "Should I include profanity in my book?"

    I always answer with "You're asking the wrong person." (Well...after I say "Fuckin-A!") This usually confuses them, until I point out the *right* person is the character doing the speaking.

    I started getting the question so frequently that I decided to just break down and write an article on the subject. You can find it here:


    1. Thanks Nat - I'll check the article out.

      (if you're self-published you should put a book into this - everyone can use more coverage & let the folks you help out know too!)

    2. Thank you, Mark! I've submitted my manuscript according to the instructions you gave, and I'll definitely spread the word!

  11. Welcome to the "New Age". Back in my day the word "fuck" would not fly!!!! Now, "fuck" as wings !!!
    So, I say "Let your fuck flag fly.

  12. Interesting topic. I have a theory
    Violence - My kids have made it to nine without being involved in any significant act of violence and I have every expectation that will live their whole lives without encountering any murder or assault.
    Sex - Not yet, but its going to happen and there is a significant chance that it will happen in circumstances that I would disapprove of.
    Inappropriate language - (including but not limited to profanity) - this has been a struggle since they started talking, I correct them constantly.

    So the things that come up more, that I think about more is stuff that I notice more in books and media

  13. Sure I'll comment on an old post, I have no shame. ;-)

    I've largely avoided our more useful curse words in my work, became I feel the ones we use today have sort of evolved over time, from acronyms or other sources.

    So I've done my best to do the same thing, using 'regular' words that over time have developed vulgar connotations. Jury is still out regarding whether it works.

    FWIW, I follow the Billy Connolly method in my own speech, although I can tune it way down when needed.

    And my characters do use privies, when the need strikes them. In fact, better to make use of one when it's at hand rather than wait, and use one's hand ...

    I'll get my coat.

  14. Whoever is complaining about your books knows nothing about excess. They should see In Bruges with Colin Farrell (notorious in the past for his use of the word) where according to the word 'fuck' and its derivatives are said 126 times in the 107-minute film, an average of 1.18 'fucks' per minute. It doesn't take long to get absurdly funny. There's even a special feature on the DVD - a collection of all 126 uses in one short.
    I would find it strange if your characters did NOT use profanity. Though I have no direct experience, it seems appropriate for murders and thieves to talk like this. The dialogue would seem stilted without much so as if they all used perfect English grammar all the time.
    The use of alternative curses can sometimes work, but often just sticks out and sounds silly.

  15. I'm all for realism in books, movies, etc. but sometimes the use of that word is just too freckin' much! :-)

    Mark, I'm a prude, but this blog gave me a good laugh.

  16. My dad was in the US Army, and he said that 'fuck' was used as all parts of speech, and even to make new words and parts of speech. It was the one word that you could not live without.

  17. ""I saw one review of Prince of Thorns where the reader loved the book but lamented the bad language. There was, he said, a 'fuck' every other paragraph."""

    Says a lot more about the so-called "reviewer" than it says about your books.

    ... for starters (s)he sounds like a right cucking funt to resort to gross exaggeration in an attempt to make a point.


  18. i came here only to say: 37? time to up your game...

  19. Well that's a bit of a cuntyballs and no mistake Mr Frodo.

    LotR goes Grim

  20. This was so entertaining. I'm going to look out for your books. I stumbled upon this post after I ran a find-replace for "What the fuck?" and changed it to "What the fuck!" in the final edit of my book. I lean toward the idea that the expression is more interjection than question, but I digress. This exercise led to checking how many fucks were given in my book (to borrow your expression here) and I discovered 121 fucks in 137K words. To me that seems normal enough, all things considered.
    I think society makes us do many things we don't understand. You say curse words are bad enough times and many of us will just adopt the mantra. I however have not even come close to agreeing that "fuck" is a curse!