I've recently seen reference to "the f-bomb" on Critique Circle Forums. I made me think about strong language and what we choose to censor.
When I told my mother I had edited my first draft of a story for her to read, taking out "all the 'f' words", she said, "If I worried about that I wouldn't read anything these days." Yet she hates strong language in conversation.
What puzzles me is the inconsistency. Sometimes on television a character will say "fuck" and it's allowed to be broadcast. Yet a recent trailer for The Colour of Magic had the word "bastard" censored, which to me is a less strong word. Americans seem to use the word "asshole" a lot but to bowdlerise profanity. In the UK, most people see "damn", "hell" and "bitch" as not swearing at all.
I have a high tolerance for strong language but I worry that I will offend other people. In writing fiction, the trick seems to be to write in the voice of one of the characters and use the language he or she would use. Nick Hornby uses this to good effect in A Long Way Down, where the characters each have their own voice and the choice between "fuck" and "f-" depends on which character is currently narrating.
Maybe I want it to be simple when it isn't. What do you think?