The book that sent me down the path of this post is Meljean Brook's The Iron Duke, and Mina's favorite oath: "My blue heaven." It just fit so perfectly into the world where the skies are clouded with smog; and there's this one moment when she sees an actual blue sky, possibly for the first time:
Rhys watched her face as she stepped down from the car, and saw that her first glance was in the same direction as everyone else who journeyed from London-- up, where the sun hung high in the brilliant blue sky, rather than shining like a dull coin embedded in a shark's belly. Her lips parted and her face softened, and Rhys vowed that he would see that expression again.I swear I'm not that old, really, but I knew that "My Blue Heaven" was the name of a song; I thought maybe from the 40s or 50s, but when I looked it up, the original is even older than I thought -- 1927. Not quite the right era, but it does kind of evoke the motorcars and early era of technology that fits in with the steampunk aesthetic, yes? No? OK, maybe that's a stretch
I don't know, maybe I'm reading too much into it, but it's just one of those little authorial choices that seems to add so much to the story, at both a character and world-building level.
"Move yer bleedin' arse," Miss Charlotte Spenser's maid, Meggie, said to her.
The contradiction of formal title and the rude language and particularly that the maid says it to the lady, is a great hook and pulled me in to the character quickly. Unfortunately, it ended up being a bit gimmicky as the whole schtick about the "Bluestocking Ladies" learning how to swear was dropped right away. It was a decent introduction but it could have added a lot more to the story if the author had wanted to work it a bit more.
But... I can't let this one drop without observing that it can't possibly be a coincidence that it's exactly the same line that Eliza Doolittle lets loose with in My Fair Lady, can it? (Well, technically, Eliza says "bloomin'," rather than "bleedin'". Still.)
I already talked a bit about how Kim Harrison uses the phrase, "By the Turn" in her Rachel Morgan/Hallows series. I found it a bit heavy-handed (though that could be a cumulative effect of multiple books) and it lacks the delicious subtle layering of Brook's "my blue heaven," BUT it does reinforce the otherness of the Hallows world and the cultural magnitude of the event that "outed" all the paranormal beings.
So tell me about your favorite use of profanity in fiction - how do authors use it to make a point about their characters? For you writers lurking out there, feel free to jump in with any of your own favorite examples.
And finally, I leave you with this, just because it's hilarious (it's heavily bleeped but you might want to have headphones on if you're at work or have rugrats in earshot)