I adore my editor. Why I feel compelled to make her life more difficult (if perhaps more amusing) I don't know. Suffice it to say I've discovered there are certain words you're not allowed to say in a Young Adult book.
Delusion, coming out in Fall 2012, is about two sisters from a stage illusionist family who discover an all-male college of real magicians in the English countryside when they evacuate London during the Blitz. In my research, of this and other eras, I've found that swearing is just about as prevalent across the centuries as it is now.
I did include a “bollocks” and a “bugger” which are apparently acceptable, but I was happy to excise the single F-word. (Though did you know, a film can still be PG-13 with one F-word. It has to be used as an adjective or expletive, though, not in reference to sex.)
But I'm not talking about swearing. The words I'm thinking of are perfectly innocent – I swear! Here's what I've learned:
(Real examples from Delusion, which I'm editing now.)
When referring to a tall, dull brick building, it is unacceptable to call it “a dowdy brick erection without romance or charm.” Clearly this refers to the definition of erection reading something that has been erected; a building or construction. Now what's wrong with that?
And then, when a person makes an excited utterance – “'Never!' Arden ejaculated.” – meaning, of course to utter suddenly and passionately; to exclaim, it will apparently make people think of something else. I can't imagine what.
The illusionist sisters evacuate to a farm, and being London girls they know nothing about livestock. So when comparing a tiny bantam to a large rooster, isn't it only natural that they should say, “There's a very big cock indeed!”
I'm sure you're all familiar with traditional English desserts, right? Well, in WWII sugar was rationed, and the housewives complained that there wasn't enough to make their favorite treats – they needed their roly-poly and spotted dick, after all. Spotted dick is just a steamed suet pudding with raisins and currants.
(When I was a teen I gave tours at the local aquarium, and learning to talk with a straight face about the pretty little reef fish called a slippery dick was one of our rites of passage. Guess I can't write about those, either.)
So much for a YA writer to learn!