Brad Sondahl

January 1, 1999

Post #791 – 19990101

We’re reading The Education of Robert Nifken aloud, and enjoying it immensely. But I am puzzled by your more adult language than your other adolescent novels. I presume this is a conscious choice on your part, and undoubtedly reflects real world experience, but I’m uncomfortable reading some of the words aloud to my family. (Of course I am married to a minister…) Do you hope to increase marketshare, like movies that throw in a couple swear words to get a PG rating instead of a G? On the plus side, last night we were all laughing uncontrollably by the time you got to the part describing the 3rd period Biology class (Why do they keep sending me these children?). It really is a great book.

My own Biology teacher had a bit of a problem with discipline, and tended to throw chalkboard erasers at kids he was having a problem with. He also shut kids in the closet as a discipline. I personally was closetted after arguing about an answer on a test. It was a lark–I chuckled quite a bit, and he’d open the door and ask if I had enough, and I’d laugh, and he’d shut it again. After all, a closet is much more fun than memorizing the 8 orders of insects (which I learned later is a truncation).

Hemiptera, Homoptera, Odonata, Coleoptera, Rah Rah Rah!

Daniel replies:

Yes, I did allow Robert Nifkin to use a couple of (very mild) cusswords. That's how he talks.

The suggestion that I presented a tiny bit of vulgarity in order to secure more popularity is unworthy, and I'm sure you didn't mean it. I will stand on my record of never doing anything to make my books more popular, or my career more successful.

What I want to point out to you is this: If certain words make you uncomfortable, and if you avoid or proscribe those words, you are singling them out and giving them special power--power beyond that of other words, which are merely symbols which convey particular ideas. To do this seems to me a mark of primitive and uneducated societies, in some of which there are ""fighting words,"" which, if used, requires one to take physical reprisal...or, more to the point here, ""magic words,"" which if said will cause devils or evil spirits to appear.

I am informed that civilized people who hold religious beliefs are opposed to the practice of magic, investing carved idols with magical powers, or the belief that saying ""abracadabra,"" will make imps and homunculi appear. I'd add to this giving extra weight to vulgar words. They're just words. You don't have to use them--even for emphasis--and many don't. But, to me, refraining from saying, ""son-of-a-bitch,"" only makes sense if you do it in the same way you'd refrain from saying, ""ain't.""