Turning The Air Blue

Here’s a post I originally did for the splendiferous Bibliophile Book Club about my potty-mouthed ways.

Swearing – or as my mother calls it, often accompanied by a clip around the ear, the effing and jeffing – is something that readers, critics and authors often get into a right barney about.

Personally, and I know not everyone will agree, I see it as an organic part of the language and I’m happy to have my characters occasionally ‘turning the air blue’, and not just the villains.

My books are set in my hometown of Dublin and I pride myself on coming from one of the fonts of truly great swearers. If swearing was an Olympic sport, we’d be disqualified for foul language – that’s how good we are. In all seriousness, ‘bad language’ can give a real sense of a place and its people. Irvine Welsh’s classic Trainspotting just wouldn’t work if the language was sanitized. Similarly, Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy is a masterpiece full of warmth and joy, but the language is never less than a tad fruity. That’s not to say that I want my characters indiscriminately spraying out invectives, but I very much doubt anyone in history has been shot in the foot and proclaimed it ‘frightfully inconvenient.’

So, fair warning, my books do have some ‘bad language’ in them, but, as with everything in a novel, I think you can be creative with it. For example, one of the central characters in my books is a foul-mouthed Garda detective called Bunny McGarry. Just swearing doesn’t really fit him. It seems far more appropriate to his large personality that he would go to town with his expletives and thus Bunnyisms were born.

The very first one I used was in fact taken from a Christian Brother who taught my brother maths. He would regularly call whatever student happened to be annoying him ‘a one-eyed son of a cock-eyed Suzie’. Read that again, it’s actually not as rude as you initially thought. It also makes very little sense, yet it is still one of the finest swears I’ve ever heard. I’ve invented numerous others along the way. Bunny accuses someone looking glum of ‘sitting there like a eunuch at an orgy’. Someone is ‘as happy as a horny dog at a one-legged man convention’. An annoying colleague is ‘little hairy-arsed goat humper’ and when there is suspicion of foul play something ‘smells worse than a wino’s arse on Sunday’.

The great thing about Bunnyisms is that they don’t even have to make a great deal of sense. What they have is an energy and a sort of malevolent poetry to them. They’re great fun to make up too. Feel free to have a try. It is essentially a game of sweary word association where there are no wrong answers.

Along with the Bunnyisms, there’s the feck issue. The makers of Father Ted managed to successfully convince the British censors that feck was not the same as the word with a ‘u’ instead of that ‘e’. Lord knows how they managed it, any Irish person, especially my mother, will tell you that it definitely is.

Still though, the rest of the world seems to feel that Irish swearing has a certain lyrical beauty to it and if a character is to be ‘real’, then I’ll continue to write them talking like a real person – albeit one who might get the occasional clatter around the ear from my Ma.


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