Watch Your Language!
Words affect us. They influence our hearts and minds. They
rally us and challenge us. Behind every story, speech, article, and film stands
a writer. Good writers select their words as an artist selects his colors.
A screenwriter is actually the first director of any story.
He instructs the action to move the story, as well as providing the
conversations and thoughts of the characters. Is it important for the words to
be right? You bet!
Do writers include words, phrases, figures of speech that
don’t mean anything? When they add cursing and vulgarities, does that mean
anything at all? Of course it does.
Some dismiss “bad language” as meaningless chatter—simply a
method of adding emphasis. I believe that every word speaks to the character that utters that word, whether real or
fiction, and especially to the character of the writer.
I love to watch movies. When I watch, I listen carefully to
the words spoken on screen. Some dance and spin like prose, flowers to be
plucked from the air. I think of the banter between Katherine Hepburn and Cary
Grant in The Philadelphia Story. I recall the humble prayers of Lionel
Barrymore in You Can’t Take It With You, or the call to arms of James Stewart
in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.
Every word in these movies was selected for its accuracy and
meaning. Each word has depth and emotion. They evoke the feelings of the
Contemporary movies often lose that power. They splatter
words around recklessly, without regard to meaning. We still laugh. We still
cry. And once the credits roll, we go home and check that film off our list. No
clever banter to remember—no wit to admire.
What writers often forget is that every word has a
definition. These days, scripts include “modern” vulgarities without concern to
My pet peeve is the “F- word.” It originated as an acronym for
“Forced Unlawful Carnal Knowledge,” a specific term for rape. Occasionally a character
uses it correctly, but mostly it is just slang for “sex.” Every time I hear
someone toss it around to be cute, I can’t help but think of the rape victims
all around us.
I wonder if people knew what it really meant, would they still
use it the same way? Probably. Would they substitute the word rape? Not if they wanted to actually sell their script.
I suppose I’m just fussy. I like precision. I prefer characters
to be intelligent, whether they play the compassionate hero or the evil
My personal opinion about obscenities is that when a writer includes
these words and phrases, he runs the risk of offending a portion of the audience.
When the writer leaves them out, any audience member that needs them will
automatically fill them in with his imagination. I’ve personally never heard
anyone walk away from a theatre complaining that there just weren’t enough
curse words for their taste.
My rule, as a writer, is generally, “When in doubt, leave it
out!” I just wish that a few other writers felt the same way.
That’s a wrap for this Toast to Cinema! Thanks for reading!