How to style profanity in your prose

Deciding if you’re going to drop a profane or obscene word in your copy is one thing. Determining how to present that word is quite another. Here are some tips.

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The simplest approach, of course, is to treat profane and obscene words and phrases just like any other. As I mentioned earlier, many people (myself included) find humor in judiciously employed cussing intended to evoke amusement, and nothing beats a string of expletives to convey passion of one kind or another.

Understandably, however, this acceptance is not universal, and publishers must be sensitive to their readership. General-interest magazines and websites and the like, especially those with paid subscriptions and/or with a reputation to establish or uphold, are unlikely to allow such terms to parade across the page or the screen like rowdy revelers.

Publications with niche audiences consisting of people who unabashedly use profanity in speech and writing, and hear it without flinching, are going to have a more relaxed attitude about provocative language. But what if yours doesn’t belong in that category? You and your writers can refrain from including profanity in your narrative, but what about reporting what another party wrote or said when the statement includes naughty words?

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