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Foundation (Foundation #1)
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2012 Reads > FOUND: Swearing, or lack thereof

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Katie (Calenmir) | 211 comments Something that was interesting about this book that my Dad mentioned before I read it was that it was "clean"...no swearing. I giggled at how the characters used "Space!" and at one point "Galaxy!" the way other books may use "Ye Gods!" or "Dear Spirits!" I sort of enjoyed it, but I also enjoyed what could be seen as the other extreme, The Lies of Locke Lamora, because of how natural the profanity was it seemed to make the characters more real to me. Maybe because I married a Marine and Marines all have filthy mouths so I'm used to it? Haha!

So anyway, thoughts on profanity? Who preferred Foundation's way, who prefers Locke Lamora, who, like me, likes both at different times?


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Anne | 336 comments Katie wrote: "Something that was interesting about this book that my Dad mentioned before I read it was that it was "clean"...no swearing. I giggled at how the characters used "Space!" and at one point "Galaxy!"..."

Swearing, like violence, is the last resort of the incompetent. (Maybe Marines excepted).


message 3: by David(LA,CA) (last edited Sep 09, 2012 11:34AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

David(LA,CA) (DavidScharf) | 327 comments Well, since Foundation was originally published in a magazine as several short stories, I wonder if the lack of profanity was due to requirements of the publisher. Like if it had been written as a novel first, I'm curious if he would have used actual cursing.

My biggest problem with profanity is when it clashes with my expectations of the work. Locke Lamora was suggested to me as Ocean's Eleven in a fantasy world. And then one of the twins uses a colorful metaphor for visiting a prostitute that I was not expecting. I'm working through Redshirts right now, and for something playing on a well known television show, I wasn't expecting the military level of profanity being used by the cast. It's not lowering my opinion of the work, but there are times when it's jarring.


Katie (Calenmir) | 211 comments Anne wrote: "Swearing, like violence, is the last resort of the incompetent. (Maybe Marines excepted)."

Oh Marines are very competent with swearing and with violence, ha!

Have a poem that matches how I feel about swearing, behind spoiler tags due to the profanity (does that work? Because censoring it would ruin the point):

(view spoiler)


Katie (Calenmir) | 211 comments David(LA,CA) wrote: "Well, since Foundation was originally published in a magazine as several short stories, I wonder if the lack of profanity was due to requirements of the publisher. Like if it had been written as a..."

That makes a good deal of sense, and also the date it was written probably contributes, we are far more exposed to profanity in our media now than in the 40's and 50's and my generation views a lot of profanity as hardly 'bad' words at all I'd say. I think Gentleman Bastards are easier to accept swearing from than scientists writing an encyclopedia...I could have accepted swearing from the traders later on in Foundation though. "Mouth like a sailor" sort of thing I guess?


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Molly (AnIllLuckName) | 89 comments Katie wrote: "I think Gentleman Bastards are easier to accept swearing from than scientists writing an encyclopedia...I could have accepted swearing from the traders later on in Foundation though. "Mouth like a sailor" sort of thing I guess?"

Yeah, I think some swearing from the traders would have seemed authentic. As a college student, I hear swearing all the time, so it's odd to me when a book completely omits any profanity. It just doesn't seem realistic. But if this was first published in a magazine, I can definitely understand the lack. Especially for that time period.

Katie: Great poem :)


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Kate O'Hanlon (kateohanlon) | 778 comments Anne wrote: "Swearing, like violence, is the last resort of the incompetent. (Maybe Marines excepted)."

I think 'fuck off' is the only appropriate reply to that :p

I'm Irish, we curse a lot more than Americans (there's a section on it in the cultural adjustment orientation we run for international students at the University I work for) I tend to expect swearing in books and am jarred if there's not a good reason for its absence.


John (JohnBrock) | 33 comments I started to analyze their use of the word space, because at some parts it would be capitalized as if it was God to them, and other times it wouldn't be. Maybe I'm looking for meaning where there aren't any. It seems that the use of Galaxy started around the same time they (view spoiler) so there might be a correlation there.


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JoJo Laforte (jojolaforte) | 23 comments Kate wrote: "Anne wrote: "Swearing, like violence, is the last resort of the incompetent. (Maybe Marines excepted)."

I think 'fuck off' is the only appropriate reply to that :p

I'm Irish, we curse a lot more ..."


Very true. If an author wants to give an accurate portrayal of humanity with his/her characters and doesn't include profanity where it's called for he/she has failed. It's absolutely jarring. It's even worse when they try to substitute words like fudge, but I've found scifi/fantasy books that get around it by inventing new curse words for their world (fracking etc) to be the exception to that rule.


Isaiah | 74 comments This is a topic that seems to get a lot of attention, as I recall when we were reading Locke Lamora. I myself prefer a healthy dose of swearing, when the situation calls for it. I find the use of 'space' as an oath kind of corny, personally. My question to those who do find swearing offensive is: why? If someone swears at you in real life, thats one thing, I'd be offended too. But why are people offended by swears in books or T.V./ movies? It strikes me as odd, because nobody ever seems to complain about the violence in stories, just the language. So if anyone can indulge my curiosity, I'd appreciate it. Why are book swears offensive?


message 11: by Phil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phil | 979 comments Asimov wrote in his Treasury of Humor, "By being as clean as possible, you avoid arousing feelings of embarrassment or revulsion in any audience with pretensions of some standard of refinement." and "My objection to the use of words like the final one in Joke 639 is by no means a matter of prudery, but one of respect for the English language. A word has a meaning, a function, a purpose. It is a tool of communication. To use it wrongly is to ruin it and make it valueless. And every word that is so ruined helps debase the richness of the language and represents a loss to all who use the language."
He does include "fuck" and "bullshit" in a couple jokes but he explains that they are needed for the joke to work.


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Anne | 336 comments Isaiah wrote: "This is a topic that seems to get a lot of attention, as I recall when we were reading Locke Lamora. I myself prefer a healthy dose of swearing, when the situation calls for it. I find the use of '..." Typically swearing is a lack of imagination and opting for an overdone emotional hook...like other cliches - to be avoided when possible.


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Sean O'Hara (SeanOHara) | 2334 comments David(LA,CA) wrote: "Well, since Foundation was originally published in a magazine as several short stories, I wonder if the lack of profanity was due to requirements of the publisher. Like if it had been written as a novel first, I'm curious if he would have used actual cursing."

What makes you think book publishers would've allowed more freedom? Remember, in the 1940s and '50s many cities still had censorship boards that could prohibit books from sale if they were found obscene, and around the same time there was a widespread campaign to suppress comic books for corrupting children. A book publisher may've let some damns and hells slip by, but you'd need to be a big name like James Jones or Ernest Hemingway to get away with Locke Lamora style cursing -- and maybe not even then.


David(LA,CA) (DavidScharf) | 327 comments Sean wrote: "What makes you think book publishers would've allowed more freedom? Remember, in the 1940s and '50s many cities still had censorship boards that could prohibit books from sale if they were found obscene..."

Well, yeah, I wasn't saying if it would have been filled with selections from George Carlin's list. But I don't remember "Space!" and "Galaxy!" being all that frequent, so I was thinking more long the lines of what you're saying: "A book publisher may've let some damns and hells slip by..."


Jonathon Dez-la-lour (jd2607) | 173 comments I don't find the lack of profanity to be jarring or disturbing at all, partly because of the somewhat anachronistic nature of the book - it's set so far into the future that (view spoiler) but despite it being set some 50,000 years into the future it still reads like 1940s America on Earth, so I think including profanity or profanity subsitutes like frack/frak from the BSGs or frell and dren from Farscape would have seemed so much more out of place.

That said, the use of "space" as an interjection in the vein of "oh my god" or as seems to be most frequent, as a substitute for "god" in "god knows" etc. has made it difficult for me to take parts of this book seriously. It just doesn't feel, to me at least, like a natural part of the speech pattern and every time it crops up I actually stop reading and think "that does not feel comfortable in my brain".

I get the feeling that Asimov deliberately didn't want to use "god" as a conscious effort to say that this society has moved past religion but then it seems like he sorta just flubbed on how to put it together and did a quick substitution with a word that seemed sci-fi-y


Jonshann0w | 7 comments Anne wrote: "Typically swearing is a lack of imagination and opting for an overdone emotional hook...like other cliches - to be avoided when possible."

I think you have to put the swearing into the context of it's use. I would agree that swearing in the narrative text does suggest a lack of imagination. Perhaps with the exception of using the word "f**k" to describe the act and suggest the nature of the act there is no need for swearing.

But when used in dialogue then it can make perfect sense, in that it is all part of the characterisation and/or the situation. In this context the lack of imagination is that of the character not necessarily the author, and the author is developing the character through their use of language.

You then need to take into account the type of person the character is, and the social group they are in at the time. Builders and Stock brokers swear all the time at work, but beauticians and shop assistants don't. But outside of work the beautican might swear like a sailor. Even the most elegant refined person might be brought to swearing when they drop a hammer on their foot or under sudden intense pressure.

Overall the use if colourful language needs to be adopted carefully and not used just to shock, but used in the context of the character and the situation. Watch the "King's Speech" there is lots of swearing in that, but in one scene it works brilliantly because of the situation and reasoning behind it, I don't think anyone was offended by it.


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Anne | 336 comments Jonshann0w wrote: "Anne wrote: "Typically swearing is a lack of imagination and opting for an overdone emotional hook...like other cliches - to be avoided when possible."

I think you have to put the swearing into th..."


I said to be avoided when possible. There may be situations where it is unavoidable but in the great majority of cases it is just another set of cliches. The usage has less to do with the characters than in what the authors think will be cool to the audience. Most current authors do not think highly of their audiences and figure formulaic writing is "goood enough".


message 18: by Rob, Roberator (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob (robzak) | 5139 comments Mod
Personally based on people I know/work with, I think swearing is very appropriate in some dialogue.

It's situational, but going to an extreme to avoid using it is just as bad as going the other extreme and overusing it for the sake of using it.


Alterjess | 319 comments Overall the use if colourful language needs to be adopted carefully and not used just to shock, but used in the context of the character and the situation. Watch the "King's Speech" there is lots of swearing in that, but in one scene it works brilliantly because of the situation and reasoning behind it, I don't think anyone was offended by it.

I tend to think excessive swearing works better in performance than in writing - try reading a Mamet play vs watching one. (I'm trying to imagine Armando Iannucci writing a novel, and I just can't. He needs actors to bring his gorgeous, filthy language to life.)

That said, people do swear in real life, and fake swears almost always stand out more than a real one would because we're all mentally filling in what that character should have said. I mean, look at what happens to movies on network TV: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4t6zN...

To me, "Space!" and "Galaxy!" add to the overall atmosphere of the book, that is, the kind of absurdly charming wide-eyed futurism where we were going to have a hotel on the moon by 1975 and all the housework would be done by robots because we had entered the SPACE AGE.


Katie (Calenmir) | 211 comments I had another thought...if censorship is an issue I have read plenty of things that say something along the lines of "He let slip an oath under his breath." Then you're getting across that your character is behaving like a real human being while still having a 'clean' text.


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Leesa (leesalogic) | 506 comments I prefer my books to use actual swear words rather than make things up to get past whatever filters there are.

"Gorram" and "frak" are OK since they sound close to what was meant, but even so, I only want to hear those words used by the characters. I'm not a fan of seeing those words used in blogs, status updates, Tweets, or vocal conversations unless you are roleplaying the character.

There were phrases used in Gabriel's Ghost that annoyed me after too much use. They were along the lines of our using Mary or Joseph to express exasperation.


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Mark Kaye | 121 comments Cursing has its place. Cursing isn't necessarily swearing therefore swearing has no place. You can use other words that work just as well. You just need to think a little more creatively. And remember that Foundation was writen half way throught he 20th century, swearing back then was more frowned upon than it is now.


message 23: by Anne (new)

Anne | 336 comments Silence is golden.

LOL.


Katie (Calenmir) | 211 comments Saranar wrote: "Cursing has its place. Cursing isn't necessarily swearing therefore swearing has no place. You can use other words that work just as well. You just need to think a little more creatively. And remem..."

What would you say the distinction between cursing and swearing is? I've always used those synonymously.


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Mark Kaye | 121 comments Katie wrote: "Saranar wrote: "Cursing has its place. Cursing isn't necessarily swearing therefore swearing has no place. You can use other words that work just as well. You just need to think a little more creat..."

You might have a point there, I guess one persons swear word may not be anothers. As an example F***, S*** are a given, but others people may or may not consider Crap, Dam it, or Blaspheming, as swearing, but they are still cursing.


Ulmer Ian (eean) | 341 comments Asimov was always very clean. He wrote a short story for Playboy once that had a risque punchline.


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Derek Knox (snokat) | 274 comments Katie wrote: "What would you say the distinction between cursing and swearing is? I've always used those synonymously."

Distinction depends on how offense you find the curse. One man's curse is another's swear. Personally I don't care one way or the other, though I do enjoy the more creative ones, especially if they're funny.


Jesse (TheOverlord) | 3 comments Swearing like everything in life is great if done well. If overdone it gets trying.
I like a bit of dock-talk and folks with truckers-mouth, but only if used tastefully.
What drives me crazy is when authors include it for no other reason but to include it.
Thankfully, if the book contains too much of it...don't read it.


Katie (Calenmir) | 211 comments Snokat wrote: "Katie wrote: "What would you say the distinction between cursing and swearing is? I've always used those synonymously."

Distinction depends on how offense you find the curse. One man's curse is an..."


I guess to me no particular word is more offensive, but the way it's used can be. Some of my very best friends and I call each other b**** or c*** and it's meant completely affectionately and jokingly and none of us are offended. If some stranger called me that or someone was using it in anger, I'd probably be offended and ticked and lash out back at them. Thus, reading a book where none of it is directed at me either positively or negatively, I'm not really offended.

Also what words are 'bad' changes all the time, there are everyday modern English words that we don't bat an eyelash at, but someone from Shakespeare's day would have thought very dirty indeed. Language changes and evolves and so do our curses. Just looking at what gets past television censors these days shows how accustomed we are getting to certain words, I can see that in the future they will lose their status as swearing altogether.

I do think swearing can be overused and become laziness but that's usually something I come across in conversation or online, not in published novels. As I said earlier, if it doesn't fit the character (like snooty academics or scientists doing research) then I don't like it, but if it does (sailors, traders, soldiers, outlaws like Locke Lamora and friends) then it makes them more realistic. And anyone stubbing their toe super hard is at least gonna say something like, "Shoot!" (or "Space!" ;) )even if they wouldn't say, "S***!"

Real human beings swear and make love and go to the bathroom and have a whole range of emotions and if your novel leaves all of that out, the characters can become flat. Not that you always have to include all those things, we don't need to follow characters to the toilet to know that they go. I mentioned earlier you can also just say so and so "uttered an oath" rather than writing out the curse. I just don't think you can completely deny that it has a place.


message 30: by Alterjess (last edited Sep 14, 2012 10:57AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Alterjess | 319 comments Also what words are 'bad' changes all the time

Personally, I'm fascinated by the pendulum swing between profanity (damn, hell) and obscenity (f***, sh**). Currently we're in a period where profanity barely even counts as swearing (I let my five year old say "What the hell?*") but obscenity is taboo. I wonder how long it will take to swing back the other way, if ever.

*As long as he doesn't say it in school :)


Daran | 599 comments I really like it when people say things like "Oh Space!" in older science fiction. Yes, it's partially a work around for publication reasons, but from my perspective it's just part of the atmosphere of vintage sci fi.

I think Asimov used it particularly well in this series. I especially liked when, after the establishment of the Foundation religion, you get Prince Lefkin exclaims "By Seldon." It nicely enforces the cultural impact, and control, the Foundation has over the people. It also helps to draw the parallel between the Foundation and the Catholic Church.


George Corley (gacorley) | 63 comments I see too many people parroting the school marm line that profanity is somehow "lazy" or otherwise an easy way out. I would disagree. There are myriad social rules involved in the use of profanity in the real world, and a writer who puts those words where they make sense is, in my opinion, doing well.

As far as replacing swearing with things like "space" or "science", I really hate that feature of older sci-fi. Within the world of Foundation, I just can't think of a reason for a word for "space" becoming taboo -- and swear words NEED to be taboo to have any emotional impact. Compare other setting-specific profanity, such as the ubiquitous "May the Others take X" in ASOIAF -- we find out, through the series, why that would be an absolutely horrible to wish on someone, especially when applied creatively, like when (view spoiler) And it is combined with real world profanity for effect (though it is a little surprising how often some of those lords and ladies swear).


Matthew Anderson | 60 comments Don't worry. When you inevitably read Foundation and Empire, you'll see.


Daniel Bensen | 12 comments Katie wrote: "Something that was interesting about this book that my Dad mentioned before I read it was that it was "clean"...no swearing. I giggled at how the characters used "Space!" and at one point "Galaxy!"..."
I think both non-swearing and swearing can be done well or badly. When the author uses swears or non-swears well, we don't notice them---they just sort of fade into the background as the way a particular character talks or thinks. As an (aspiring) author, I'm not sure how to strike that golden balance.
One thing I do know is that literary characters have to swear (or nonswear) WAY less often than real people do. Literary marines swear like real civilians, and literary civilians swear like real grandmothers. :)


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Richard I have to chuckle at the conjunction of this thread and the "Where are the women?" thread.

Are y'all sailors on shore leave?


Daniel Bensen | 12 comments Richard wrote: "I have to chuckle at the conjunction of this thread and the "Where are the women?" thread.

Are y'all sailors on shore leave?"


I'm an ESL teacher :) I occasionally swear, but not nearly as much as some of my students :) (swears don't feel bad when they're not from your language)


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Leesa (leesalogic) | 506 comments I swear a whole lot more than my husband who was in the Marine Corps.


message 38: by Jonathan (last edited Sep 20, 2012 12:19PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jonathan | 185 comments The lack of swearing could also be writer-imposed constraint, not publisher-imposed. Sometimes writers choose to use a specific wording for pretty much anything. And one of the things about Asimov is that he's far more intellectual in his writing than many other writers within the genre. While he does have some books that feature swearing, I think the majority of his books feature absolutely no swearing because he could've thought that it would've taken away from what he was trying to create - scientific, sociological and philosophical thought experiments in story format.


message 39: by Curt (last edited Sep 22, 2012 02:06PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Curt Eskridge | 90 comments Jonathan wrote: "The lack of swearing could also be writer-imposed constraint, not publisher-imposed. Sometimes writers choose to use a specific wording for pretty much anything. And one of the things about Asimov ..."

At some point Asimov said that he left out swears as an experiment and decided he didn't miss them. I think I read it somewhere like his column in Asimov's Magazine. I think this is for his later fiction in the eighties I doubt the magazine work prior to the seventies would have allowed it either.

I'd rather not read some one who drops the F-Bomb constantly. It has no power after a while. I love the Fantastic Mister Fox film and how the Curse word was Cuss. The cuss you say.

I found this while googling for Asimov on swearing. http://www.randomizer9.com/?tag=swearing


message 40: by Anne (new)

Anne | 336 comments Jonathan wrote: "The lack of swearing could also be writer-imposed constraint, not publisher-imposed. Sometimes writers choose to use a specific wording for pretty much anything. And one of the things about Asimov ..."

Yes, it's hard to take anybody seriously who continually swears or curses. It's like anybody who continually says "ya know". Caroline Kennedy would have been an interesting candidate for Pres until she opened her mouth. That finished the speculation.


message 41: by Paul R (new)

Paul R | 43 comments swearing or lack of it- censorship- nah not so much-

or myself, i hit a time where i really just don;t need or want to hear any of it anymore.

do people curse sure, but do we need in all of our entertainment? please no, like most i cursed like a marine when i was younger- trust me - never made anything better.

if the writer finds that cursing is the only way to deliver shock value- well- does the writer have a talent issue instead?


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Kent (KentGoldings) | 8 comments As has been stated, Foundation was originally published in the late 1940's as a series of short stories in the pulp Sci-fi "Astounding Magazine." Use of profanity was almost certainly against the standards and practices of the day. The periodical probably had a fair number of teen-age and young-adult readers. I know Comic books of the day were under assault for mature themes and horrific imagery. These magazines probably were not immune.


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