Melodee’s Rules for Authors — Number Twenty

Number Twenty

Just Because It’s In The Dictionary, That Doesn’t Mean It’s Right

Back in the days when I did a little critiquing, I heard this all of the time. “Well, it’s in Webster, so it’s a real word.” And yes, I get the same crap from the kids when we play Scrabble.

For example, a couple of words that are in the dictionary are “F-Bomb” and “App”. These are just fine inside dialog (see Rule Number Nineteen as well), but in narrative, they are just plain wrong.

Why? Let me ‘splain somethin’ to you, Lucy…

A character saying something like, “…when my app went south, I almost dropped an F-bomb in the middle of the elevator…” kind of works. Maybe. Odds are, a real person would say, “…when the fucking phone broke I said, ‘what the fuck is this shit?'” On the other hand, in narrative, you would probably say something like, ‘…when his phone’s GPS failed, Joe blasphemed the gods in charge of high technology…’

Please be careful…there are a number of good reasons to avoid slang and other things that make their way into the dictionary these days and very few for using them.

One of the best reasons to avoid the slang in particular is how a book ages. If the narrative is full of hip slang, odds are in just a few years no one will understand the meanings. By way of example, look at the history of the word “geek”. Used in narrative, are you talking about someone who: (1) Bites the heads off of live animals; (2) Thinks Star Trek is real; (3) Works with computers; or (4) Is into video games and anime?

Like so many other things, the standards for what qualifies as a word have fallen.

Keep Loving!


  1. I agree about not using slang, since the essence of slang is to show you are one of the “in-group”, and to exclude everyone else. If the reader is not “hip” to what the slang means, you’ve just alienated a reader by making her/him feel “out-of-the-loop.” But I do use actual swear words, judiciously. If a character is “rough,” probably a bad person in my books, then I will have him or her swear a lot, just for effect. But I don’t have any characters just use f-bombs or any other words to shock the readers.

    That being said, a particular “thing” of mine is I HATE when erotic authors use C*** for a female body part. Using it as a swear word? I’m fine with that. But it just sounds too guttural and rude to me, and pulls me right out of a scene, when it’s used in romance. Of course, that’s just me. I know many authors who don’t agree with me. To each their own.

    1. I have to agree, but for me I find many of my characters (especially in the Immortal Love Universe) are essentially military. Ever hang around a military member? Yeah…they tend not to swear. Just just plain cuss like, well, sailors!

      I’m guilty of using the C-word sometimes, usually in the sort of context you describe. As an example, in one of my 6 or 8 WIPs, a “bad guy” (at that particular moment) backhands the heroine killing her (sort of) and as he strikes her yells, “Shut up, c%#@!” Yeah, it’s complicated. 😉 In that kind of setting, it works.

      Keep Loving!

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