The Saturday Writing Quote — on language

In a workshop at Left Coast Crime this past March, crime writer Robert Dugoni said his characters are swearing less and less these days, as he comes to realize that shock value neither develops character nor advances the plot, and that swearing turns away readers who might otherwise enjoy his books. Other novelists are making the same shift. I hope it’s a trend, not for the sake of purity, but for the sake of truth and precision.

“The annihilation of taste has not spared language. There is the curious notion that freedom is somehow synonymous with gutter jargon. At one time, people who worked in the arts would boast to one another about their ability to communicate ideas that attacked social injustice and brutality. Now some of them seem to feel that they have struck a blow for humanity if only they can use enough four-letter words. The trouble with this kind of verbiage is not just that it is offensive but also that it is trite to the point of being threadbare.”

— Norman Cousins, “An Epitaph for the Saturday Review — and Culture, Too,” in The Living Language 137, 138 (Linda A. Morris et al. eds., 1984) (via Bryan Garner, author of Garner’s Modern American Usage, in his daily blog)