Tag Archives: writing tips

The Effective Expletive

If James Lipton, famed interviewer of Inside the Actors Studio, were to ask me my favourite expletive, I would blurt out the word “fuck” without hesitation. It is what I say when I stub my toe. It is versatile and works as almost any part of speech. So it was with joy that I read two pieces this week that offer excellent examples of using expletives effectively. Both are blog posts about the Jian Ghomeshi trial, a man and a situation that call for the strongest possible language.

The first blog post is called “Fuck You, Jian,” from Bone Broth and BreastmilkThis is an incredible blog post. Personal, brave, revealing, raw, honest and real. I admire her fragmented sentence style. It conveys the difficulty of bringing words together about the case. It conveys the anger. She speaks of being “deeply disturbed,” the “subterranean sludge,” the trial brings up and a situation that has “absolutely gutted so many of us.” She writes, “But the big secret that Jian Ghomeshi blew wide open last year, is that there is a sickness in our culture. A sickness that allows nice guys, educated guys, guys with culture and thoughtful analysis – gentle guys – to feel entitled to treat women as less than human.” A guy you might have thought was feminist even. A guy with famous feminist friends, feminist friends who even stood up for him, at least in the beginning. The writer never says Fuck You, Jian in the post. She keeps it up front and puts it right in the title. And I have to say, I respect that. I wish I knew her name. She’s a solid writer. Kudos to you. Fucking great blog post.

Jane Eaton Hamilton is another solid writer, more than solid, an award winning writer who I have read and admired for years. She too has written about Ghomeshi this week. Her blog post is even more personal. She relates an encounter she had with the accused called The Preludes to Assaults.  Again, I can use the words brave, revealing, raw, honest and real. Hamilton’s point is that those who prey on women have a pattern, a method, and that she (and dare I say #yesallwomen) have been part of what can only be described as a prelude to an assault, an assault interrupted. Her post starts starts like this: “Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted].” She repeats this phrase every time she uses his name in the post, which she does often. I prefer to think that the redacted word is “fuck” but it could be anything. That’s the beauty of the redaction. It lets us put our own favourite expletive into the mix.

Now, even though I would generally rather use the word fuck than not, the redaction is brilliant. It makes the expletive stand out even more. And since it is destined to be used so many times in this difficult piece, it is probably a relief to those less inclined to use expletives as liberally as I tend to that it is left off the page. It’s a good reminder that with expletives, less is often more. Overused, an expletive loses its effectiveness. And lastly, something else happens with this technique. I find myself reading new inflection into my favourite expletive every time the word [redacted] shows up.

Sometimes you have to say fuck. But it’s not just Jian Ghomeshi I want to say fuck about. It’s every man who ever raped or beat a woman, every man who ever manipulated a woman, tried to gaslight her, told her she didn’t look right or catcalled her or told her to smile while she was minding her own business just walking down the street. It is every man who made a woman believe she had to be something he wanted her to be, to serve his purposes instead of her own. It’s a system that teaches women to be nice, to be subservient, to ignore their instincts, to say “thank you” for something they never even wanted, to be grateful it wasn’t even worse, to be “pragmatic” even when they know it is wrong. This is not a time to be nice. This is a time to let a few expletives fly.