There are times in a professional content writer’s career when they’re faced with one of life’s most frustrating dilemmas… to add the rude jokes, or to not add the rude jokes.
In fact, can you really call yourself a content writer if you’ve never sat there for 30 minutes having an internal debate with your conscience over whether la comédie des toilettes has a place in a blog post about artificial intelligence, or high-end handbags or whatever?
Why do we feel the need to add a bit of rude humour into our content writing? Is it just that we have a need to let off occasionally? Steam, I mean?
Off-colour humour, featuring swear words and body parts (even the worst ones) has been featured in literature for as long as people have been writing.
If we poke about a bit in the annals of history, it seems that writers since the beginning of time just haven’t been able to resist shoving in a good innuendo.
The world’s earliest rude jokes
It probably comes as no surprise to learn that the world’s first-ever rude joke was about farts. Who doesn’t enjoy having a laugh about flatulence? No one, that’s who.
According to the BBC, there’s a one-liner believed to date from 1900BC that goes:
“Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”
Now, whether this is a joke, a fact, or simply a bit of advice for any new wife, we don’t know. What we do know is that what is sometimes known as the ‘frog chorus’ has long been a source of amusement.
Shakespeare was one of the worst culprits for squeezing a few naughty phrases into his output. The man clearly had an appetite for vulgarity, and, as one of the first authors to have his works mass-produced, it’s not surprising that rude humour blossomed as quickly as it did during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Twelfth Night is a prime example. Malvolio, believing that a letter was written by Olivia, looks for clues in the writing which suggests that the author is indeed her.
“By my life, this is my lady’s hand: these be her very C’s, her U’s and her T’s, and thus makes she her great P’s.”
The P bit is fairly obvious, and 10/10 to the Bard for doing a wee joke. But you probably need to read it out loud to grasp the (admittedly not hilarious) suggestiveness of the first bit.
Shakespeare and your mum
For another Shakespeare example, please turn your pages to Titus Andronicus, Act 4, Scene 2.
In response to Chiron’s claim that “Thou hast undone our mother”, Aaron childishly replies: “Villain, I have done thy mother”, thus creating one of the first ‘yo mama’ jokes to be committed to print.
Of course, Shakespeare didn’t invent the ‘yo mama’ joke. That… accolade?… goes to an anonymous writer from somewhere around 1500BC.
The rumour is that a tablet was discovered in Iraq which said:
“…of your mother is by the one who has intercourse with her. What/who is it?”
Again, one doesn’t exactly roll in the aisles, but there’s obviously a bit missing, so maybe it was a real gut-buster back then. In any case, the famous tablet mysteriously disappeared, so we’d take that whole story with a pinch of salt.
Regardless of who invented it, the ‘yo mama’ joke took off quickly. By 1975, Monty Python had famously inserted a hamster into proceedings, and it’s even in Labyrinth. Listen closely, and you’ll hear “Your mother is a fraggin’ aardvark!”.
Moving Swift-ly on
We can’t talk about rude jokes in writing without giving an honourable mention to satirist Jonathan Swift. Swift wrote some pretty impressive stuff. Gulliver’s Travels, for one.
He also wrote some other things that, for one reason or another, have not quite made it into the canon of classic literature. Let us present to you ‘The Lady’s Dressing Room’; a poem about a man who sneaks into his lover’s boudoir when she’s not there.
Probably expecting to find a few sexy nether garments lying around, he’s instead met with a “dirty smock”, combs “filled up with dirt”, and “the scrapings of her teeth and gums”. Lovely.
But best of all, Celia’s left a little surprise for Strephon in her chamber pot… “Oh! Celia, Celia, Celia shits!”.
Using rude words in your content
Whether it’s quaint, playground vulgarity, or the most eye-watering obscenities known to humanity, the first question that arises is this: which words are you legally allowed to use?
In 2014, for example, the UK’s guidelines suggested that these words were acceptable in advertising:
- Shag (good news for the carpet sector)
- Piss (good news for the Australian lager sector)
- Slag (good news for the mining sector)
- Balls (good news for the National Lottery)
You can, but should you?
The ASA website today is less clear, and it does depend on where your content is being shown.
You may not have noticed, but there’s a lot of rudeness on the internet these days, and pretty much anything is acceptable (if not actually nice, or polite).
This puts the vulgarity ball very much in your court. Offensive words in commercial content are very much like a pair of underpants – they have their ups and downs.
Sure, people swear in real life. Some people swear all the buggering time. But you do need to think about your target audience. At the time of writing, we could find little or no actual obscenity on the CofE website, and no doubt the General Synod have their reasons for that.
Bear in mind also that different countries have different tolerances for expletives. Here’s an example from the US. In 2013, Samuel L. Jackson said the word “damn” in a TV ad for a bank. There were a lot of complaints, and many people threatened to close their accounts.
Companies that use swearing in their branding
Some US companies have used puns to try to insert some zesty, attention-grabbing rudeness into their ads. Kmart ran a famous one a few years ago centred around the phrase “Ship my pants”, to which we at WordHound say “heh!”.
Booking.com had a stab at using what they would probably refer to as ‘curse words’ as well, but could only come up with “You booking did it!” which is… well. They tried.
Online, though, it’s up to you. Thug Kitchen’s homepage slogan is “Verbally abusing you into a healthier diet”, so you know up front what you’re getting in their blog posts. And look – it’s rude words. Here’s a snippet from their recipe for “Roasted Chickpea and Broccoli Burrito”:
“Pour in the oil and soy sauce, stir, and then throw spice blend all over those fuckers. Mix until all the vegetables and shit are covered.”
They’re all like that. The recipes are probably great, but some people might feel it gets old fairly quickly, because the naughty words are an addition to the main theme, i.e. food.
At HolyFlaps.co.uk though, saying “fuck!” and “piss!” is kind of the whole point. They sell ordinary things (e.g. cards, teacups, cake stands, cushions), emblazoned with the most horrifyingly indecent slogans, most of which we’re far too well-brought-up to repeat. It’s funny as long as the swearing’s good. Thug Kitchen can feel like good recipes with rude words added.
Humour in writing
The, er, thrust of this blog is that humour is one of the best ways to give a blog personality, and a lot of article and content writing has a touch of the lighthearted strewn around. It also helps to create a writing style that engages with audiences.
So should a blog post be showing off personality through what the Germans might call Furzkomödie? It all depends on who you’re writing for, and what you’re writing about.
A review of the year for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors? Perhaps leave the bum gags to one side. A tongue-in-cheek look at the latest diet trends for a magazine? Feel free to let loose. Parp parp!