A Very Sweary Dictionary

When I’m editing or proofreading, I’ll use a variety of tools and reference materials in order to get things right. Along with spelling, one of the biggest things to watch for is hyphenation, closing up or opening up of words.

And sometimes, the technical dictionaries that I use just don’t cut it. Especially for the wide variety of language that we use in fiction.

From this point on, there will be swearing. You have been warned!

People swear. They swear in their heads, they curse at each other, they blaspheme at poor political decisions, they launch obscenities at the dog, there’s a tidal wave of profanities when they tread on Lego (other studded bricks are available but are crap).

And, because people swear, that should be accurately reflected in the stories we are writing about those people. Of course, we don’t swear in all books: The Railway Children would have been very different!

But back to Kia’s excellent A Very Sweary Dictionary. Why is this needed? Surely a swear word is easy to spell so what’s the problem? Well, people don’t just swear. The cover reveals just one of the problems that you might face when it comes to writing down profanities:

From abso-f**king-lutely to w**kstain: an essential, if somewhat impolite, style guide.

Absol-fucking-lutely. People love to do this, to insert a -fucking- in the middle of the word, which we are told is called tmesis. But my question has always been how to do this correctly. Dashes, hyphens, spaces? I’ve seen it all and, at the end of 100,000-word manuscript, you start to question yourself. Easy, it’s hyphens.

Wankstain. Made up of two words: “wank” and “stain”. So should it be two words? Or maybe hyphenate those? No, it’s as easy as ignoring Word’s ever-so-helpful suggestion of “wan stain” (whatever that is) and closing up the words to make “wankstain”.

Aside from the dictionary element of the book, Kia also helpfully provides some styling suggestions for swearing. The principles behind the decisions, a little on the history of swearing and getting right for regional contexts. There’s also a helpful list of ways to avoid spelling out the swear words and a list of useful other resources ideal for the writer and editor of sweary language.

To buy a copy of this excellent resource, you absol-fucking-lutely must, click here.

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Published by Nick Taylor | Editor & Proofreader

Fiction editor and proofreader.

4 thoughts on “A Very Sweary Dictionary

  1. You know I’m going to, right …?

    Pls compare:

    [cid:1c357085-8a27-48de-a1ec-22203ee7ed22] [cid:564fa88b-aba7-45c6-9872-e2eee62ae45b][cid:5d28f0b5-9837-4a00-b8c7-56840954eb5f]

    Also should this be a semicolon or an and?


    Also, for consistency, would you normally style it thus: “fucking”?


    Sorry, please tell me not to if you don’t want me to as you’ve already put in hard work.

    But it is funny. ________________________________


  2. Wankstain is such a Pommy word it made me smile.

    I always try to write the way people speak, especially when I’m writing about my fellow countrymen and in dialogue. We, as a nation, tend to use swear words in the course of our everyday conversation, men and women alike. In fact, the “c” word here can be used as a term of affection between friends. “Gidday, you old c***, howzit going?” is bloke talk par-excellence.

    However, as a writer, you have to judge your audience. I’ve always thought a swear word was just a collection of letters, BUT it’s the intention behind the use of the word that causes offence. I recently watched a documentary out of the USA where they bleeped out the word “hooker”

    Recently I had cause to argue with someone who took me to task for using the word “nutter” telling me that it was an inappropriate term to use, equivalent to “faggot”. I reminded him that to me, the word faggot is a meatball, usually drowned in gravy and served with mashed potato, and nutter in my English dialect means someone who’s eccentric.

    It’s all in the eyes of the reader or in the mind of the hearer.


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