Blogging and profanity


As I read through Dan Markel’s thoughtful post about SSRN, over on Prawfs, I stopped and lingered over his use of the phrase “shitty first draft.” Although I have not really been conscious of this before, profanity seems largely taboo, at least within the law blogging community. Not that it’s forbidden, mind you, but blogs feel positively Southern in this respect. (People surely curse down here, but typically only in the most informal social settings.) I didn’t think about Dan’s post again until I was skimming comments to one of Eugene Volokh’s posts and witnessed Greedy Clerk get chastised for describing Alito’s selection as “a clear ‘fuck you’ choice to the Democrats.”

I must concede that my sympathies lie with the swearers. Perhaps I was a free-range child, but I grew up cursing and loving it. Then I happened upon a job in a public defender office. Let’s just that say that when it comes to the use of lewd and profane language, those proverbial sailors and truckers will have to take a number.

I fully concede that cursing is no substitute for creative word choice. But I also think that both Dan’s and Greedy Clerk’s use of profanity convey an idea with particularity.

Why is it that we’re so shy when it comes to dirty talk? I suspect that lawyers generally (excluding, for the most part, trial lawyers) are risk averse, and law profs exceptionally so. Among other things, there are tenure committees to worry about. And I suspect that more than a few law profs dream about becoming federal judges. (I am pleased to say that my own fantasy life does not feature any Article III moments.)

I’ll probably stay decent as long as I’m visiting here at Co-Op (after all, I am staying at someone else’s house!) But don’t think I won’t be swearing up a storm in my head.

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3 Responses

  1. Dan Markel says:

    Dan, you noticed that “shitty first draft” was in quotes. I hope that suggests it’s a Term of Art…and not simply my being foul-mouthed. Indeed, I think I heard the term in question at a AALS rookies’ conference–on a panel!

  2. Simon says:

    I think the important thing is that blogs are a written medium, and so it’s harder to justify profanity as just being part of the unconscious brain-to-mouth connection. So when you read a profanity-laded post, it usually means that the author is having problems expressing themselves in a written medium, and it just looks inelegant. Swearing is fine to really underline a point (I think I have sworn in the Althouse comments section a grand total of twice, and in both instances it was to underline the point, for example, that a particular thing was not just terrible, but really f—— terrible).

    It has its place, but really, when you run across a poster who just can’t seem to control him or herself, it hardly encourages one to follow that blog.

  3. Laura Heymann says:

    It is a term of art, of sorts: The oft-cited source for the phrase Dan Markel used is Anne Lamott (in her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life).