Is “That Kind of Language” Really Necessary?

Those of you who are faithful followers, or who know me personally, know that I am something of a potty mouth.  I could give you examples, or mention all the variations of the title question I’ve heard, but that’s not really what the this post is about.

Today, I finished another Dean Koontz novel, The Funhouse.  Despite Koontz’s tendency to include thinly veiled moral/religious connotations in most of his work, and his even more irritating tendency to overdo it on the metaphorical descriptives, I do like his stories.  The Funhouse, one of his older novels and based off another author’s screenplay, is in my opinion, one of his more entertaining pieces.

But what really struck me was a passage from the “new” afterword.  The novelization was originally penned in 1980 (a year before I was born, incidentally,) and the language is gritty and (to me) realistic to a bunch of rebel teens from the ’80’s.  Koontz had this to say in his newest afterword written this year.

If I were to write the novelization […] today, I’d leave out most or all of the explicit language, since I’ve learned it’s always a crutch and that it diminishes rather than enlivens virtually any story.

I immediately took issue with this statement.  To be sure, I am picky about my writing, and critical about the writing in the books I read.  For instance, Patricia Cornwell is an extremely popular crime novelist who has sold more than 100 million copies of her novels.  And I don’t like her.  Sure, her stories are fine, but I find her writing style so irritating that I just don’t buy her books.  I can’t recall specifics because it’s been a while since I read anything of hers, but I seem to remember her as one of those authors that feels like she has to “explain” everything to audience, to the point where it causes the dialogue between characters to sound disingenuous and phony.

Which brings me to my point.  One of the major things that determines a novel’s success is the ability of the audience to relate to and care about the characters.  Nothing detracts from that faster than a disingenuous character or one who does not seem realistic.  While I concede that there are people that don’t use profanity, and writers who may eschew the use of it in their work, I believe it is a writer’s job to be true to their characters.  If their characters are typical 80’s teens, as in The Funhouse, they more than likely swear at least a little.  Even if there is a token “good girl” or “mama’s boy” in there somewhere, more than likely, the rest will curse at least a bit and more than possibly like sailors.

Nothing is more irritating than to hear (read) a character tip-toe around bad words, or worse, substitute lesser exclamations as if they were the most natural thing in the world.  “Oh, crap.”

Anyway, I just think, as successful as Koontz is, on this point, he’s…well, wrong.

What do you think, my fellow writers and book worms?

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Tabula Rasa

The written English language is pretty strange, a fact that is never more apparent than when you are teaching a small human to read.  My daughter is only 2 and a half, and even though we read to her a lot, and of course there are plenty of alphabet based books out there, I was still surprised to learn she had mastered the recognition of the entire upper case alphabet.  It happened when my back was turned, so to speak, the same as when I discovered she knew how to match shapes  (flash cards.)  I was trying to teach her how to put like colors together, and the next thing I knew, she was putting the shapes together.  I continue to underestimate her capabilities.

In the past couple of weeks, her speaking has taken off, and she often mimics words we say (much to our embarrassment, sometimes,) as well as echoing the tail end of songs from her favorite kids shows.  The point of this long intro is that it seems as if she will be learning to speak and learning to read simultaneously.

The favorite show of the day/week/month is Super Why!   For you non-parents or non-toddler having parents, Super Why! is a PBS kid’s show featuring characters who read, spell,and solve “super big” problems through the use of books (in this case, usually a spin on a common children’s tale like Humpty Dumpty or Aladdin.)

For now, we’ll just set aside the idea that even the littlest issue (like leaving the water running) is a “super big” problem.  As it goes, Super Why! is a pretty good kid’s show.  And now that J* is proudly recognizing letters everywhere, from Nike sweatshirts to the “input” channel on the TV, she loves this show.  No matter what hubby and I are watching or playing, J* is hovering around, waiting to steal the controller with her lilting request to watch “Boy? Boy? Boy?” (She calls it this because of when I taught her the main character was a little boy.)

As I sat on the couch this morning, cuddling with my sick little snuggle bug and watching her favorite show, I was again reminded of how strange English can be.

We were learning to spell “kick,” to help the little duck in the story learn to swim.

Princess P asked , “What letter makes a keh sound?”  The answer she was looking for was of course “K.”

It was around this point I began to ponder what a useless letter “C” is.

What words start with C?

Cat. Car. Cane. Crown.  They all begin with a “hard” C.  Why don’t we spell them kat,kar,kane,krown?

How about Ceiling, Cease, Cement?  They’re soft C’s that sound the same as an S (esss.)  So why not Seiling (or better yet “seeling,”) sease, sement?

So what function does a C serve that can not either be served by a K or an S?  Why does the alphabet even have a C? I’m sure there’s a reason.  I just don’t understand the logic behind it.

Then when you consider “long and short vowels” and words with silent letters like head, kick, read (which can be either “reed” or “red”,) kneel, and basically any word that ends in a silent “e,” it’s a wonder anyone ever learns to read.

Really, it seems that learning to read English is only 2 parts phonetics, and the other third is simply rote memorization of the rules of linguistics and grammar.

Apparently, at her school, one of my nieces is being taught to read without phonics.  I’m assuming she is being taught the whole language method.  If I had to guess, I would say the way most of my peers learned to read was probably a combination of both, taught at age appropriate levels.

In any case, my child is a blank slate, eager to be filled with new words and experiences, and I think she is already on an early path to reading.  However she learns to read, I hope takes her everywhere she wants to go, and that she enjoys reading as much as her father and I.

photo credit: quickmeme.com

photo credit: quickmeme.com