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Swearing for kids

October 11, 2014

I’m just going through the copy-edit of a children’s novel of mine which is coming out next year, and I’m astonished at how cautious the publishers are about swearing – or “swearing”, because the words they are worried about don’t seem to me to qualify as swearwords. I’ve been asked to substitute milder alternatives for hell, crap, crapola and bloody, and to change the name of a character who is called Stefan Bumgardener. Interestingly, the editor sent me a link to the online Urban Dictionary entry for ‘bumgardener’, which is given as ‘going up behind someone who is in the act of gardening and screwing them unawares up the ass’. It’s fairly obvious that this is someone’s idea of a joke – does anyone believe that the word has ever actually been used in that way? Seems, well, unlikely. (In fact Bumgardener is a genuine name, derived from the German word baumgartener (tree-gardener); and there is a Whitehouse official with the hilarious name of Randy Bumgardner.)

Anyway, I’ll have to accept the changes – once a book is going through the process of publication you no longer have much control, unless you want to take the nuclear option of withdrawing it. But I’m surprised. The novel is for 9-11 year-olds, and the kind of language we’re talking about here doesn’t seem risqué for that age-group, and I can’t really believe significant numbers of parents would be offended by it. I feel like I’ve gone back to the 1950s.

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