Stephen King and children's language

NOTE: anyone posting here does not have to admit to being a Stephen King fan. you may preserve your anonymity (or intellectual reputation) by “somebody told me” or “i’ve heard” disclaimers. i’m mostly just looking for opinions/POVs.

: ahem :

i’ve been reading my way through the King oeuvre over the years, in no particular order. i’ll admit to liking the genre in general: supernaturally-flavored events, (usually) triumph of good over evil, interesting character descriptions, yaddayadda. that said, there’s one thing that’s rather bugged me about some of his writings: child protagonists and their language.

the kids in It had mouths that i thought were damn-near unbelievable, for the era that they supposedly inhabit. i could have sworn that, growing up, i was actually about that age, in that general time period…and i would never have reached adulthood if my vocabulary had emcompassed even HALF the words those kids sling around at each other. i’m pretty sure i didn’t even know most of them EXISTED, back then.

i’m currently reading Christine (a work i believe is earlier in the King production line), where the protagonists are teenage boys for the most part. even THEY don’t sling the cuss words around that seem to be routine for characters of any and all ages in later books from Mr. King.

now, my general question: was i just a really, REALLY sheltered grade school kid (i’ll admit to Catholic school servitude) – did public/other school kids really sound like sailors on leave everywhere else in the real world? or is King just pandering in his later writings, throwing in little extras for “shock value” by having kids talk the way they do now when the story timeline is ostensibly set in a more naive, innocent era?


I loved swear words as a kid, because they were shocking and made us feel grown-up when we used them. I’m a girl, BTW.

I think that Stephen King has a lot of insight into children and young people and I love the way so many of his stories are focused on the defining moments of childhood.

Hell, in It, the kids also smoked cigs and had an orgy!

That was much more suprising than their language. Especially since they were EIGHT YEARS OLD!

I don’t know how Mr. King was raised, but in my family, you got smacked for saying “butt”. (not really smacked, usually a lecture, which was worse) I heard my mom say “Damn” once after an auto accident, never heard my dad say anything vulgar, and we kids did not use foul language amongst ourselves or with peers. I don’t think I even started cussing til about 10th grade (15 yrs old)

However, had I, as an 8 year old child, encountered something from one of Mr. King’s novels, I would more than likely cuss a blue streak.

As a child I had a fascination with swear words, but hardly ever swore. This is in contrast today when it isn’t entirely uncommon to hear a five year old tell his mother to go f*** herself.

I get the feeling that the maturity - in language and in action - of children in King’s books may just be a little bit of wish fulfillment. He probably wishes he was that cool and rebellious as a kid. Hell, don’t we all?

I was a kid in the 70’s. I pretty much cussed as much at 8 as I did at 18 when I was in the Navy.

This thread is a surprise to me. I thought all kids cussed when their folks weren’t around.

I thought they were eleven.

I didn’t swear as a kid, but I knew a lot of kids who did. It was mostly because we weren’t supposed to do it, I guess.

I haven’t read a lot of Stephen King, but I remember some kids, especially boys, having filthy mouths when I was growing up (1980’s). The kids from “South Park” seem very realistic to me in this regard. Sure, I’d have gotten in big trouble if I had talked like that at home, but I don’t think everyone did. Actually, I don’t think most of those kids talked like that at home or when adults were around. However, when it was just kids, there was a bit of profanity, especially among certain groups of boys. Girls didn’t use so much profanity, but we’d often tell “Johnny Deeper” types of dirty jokes and talk about other taboo topics at slumber parties.

I’ll have to ask my husband if Catholic school was different. From what I’ve heard, though, his Boy Scout campouts were a good substitute.

Let me get this straight.

You’re okay with a killer clown who inhabits a storm drain but you think that the way the kids talk is unbelievable?:wink:

I think the operative phrase might be “in front of their parents.” I did not talk that way in front of my parents- my mom thought that saying “God” was bad! We only talked that way amongst ourselves, and I think that is also true of King’s characters, especially since so many of them are in abusive home situations.

I’m with EJsGirl here. I curse quite a bit, and have since sometime in Jr. High, but tone it down markedly around the parents, or anyone else that I care about that cares if I swear.

I thought the kids’ talk in It was quite believable. When I was a kid, like when I was 7 or 8, there were some kids who were designated “cursers” and some who were not cursers. And boy, did the cursers curse! By the time we were 11, like the kids in It, everybody had a filthy mouth.

But of course we toned it down around our parents. I learned to swear like a sailor from my mom and I learned to tell dirty jokes from my dad, and they never minded foul language if it was part of a story or a joke, but they didn’t want me to just be cursing up a storm in general conversation.

As my folks were fond of telling me, kids weren’t all that different in the '40s and '50s. They misbehaved. A lot of them had sex. And they used bad language.

Lachesis: Why would anyone be ashamed of being a King fan? He’s rather popular among the posters here. I’ve read all his stuff. And I’m the rare person who loved Insomnia. I’m assuming you did too.

I’ve had a bad mouth on me ever since 6th grade or so – 1970ish and age 10 or 11ish. Nor was I unusual among my peers – most of us had bad mouths on us and many started younger than I did. Not in front of parents or any other grown-ups, of course. I’ve always thought King’s believable dialog was one of his greatest strengths. King’s people talk like people – King’s kids being no exception.

Our family always had pretty salty language, and you could get away with saying just about anything to anyone, as long as it was funny. One of my parents favorite stories is of my first fully-formed phrase being "What the fck is this?", parroting my father and teaching them that little pitchers do indeed have big ears. I am the first of 5 foul-mouthed funny kids, so it’s obvious the lesson never really sunk in that well.
By the way, each and every one of us f
cking love Stephen King!

I’ve always thought that King’s greatest literary talent, such as it is, is his gift for writing the experience of growing up in rural, lower-class America in the '50s and '60s. This was a completely different experience from growing up in middle-class suburbia, and very few writers seem to be able to capture it.

At age 9, I moved from suburbia to a rural area, which at that time was just becoming a bedroom community for a local college. The local school was about half local farm kids (the “woodchucks”) and about half kids of middle-class professionals (the “flatlanders”). King’s ear for the way the locals talked is extraordinary.

The interactions between the kids in “The Body” (the source for the movie Stand by Me) are about as close to real as I can recall.

My mother in law believes that The Osbournes is scripted because she can’t believe that there are people who actually say “fuck” in conversation. She’s in her late 50’s.

I’ve never had a problem with King’s dialogue, even the children. In fact, it seems to me to be his greatest asset. Kid’s swear.

Didn’t one of the kids in IT use the phrase Shit and shinola? If that’s not something a kid would say in the 50’s then I don’t know what is.

First, I will happily admit out in the open that I’m a Stephen King fan. Although I love many of the classics, given the choice, I’d probably read Pet Semetary again before Homer, Dante, Faulkner, or one of tthose damn Russians.

That said, I’m surprised that people are surprised when Stephen King’s fictional children swear. When I was a kid, I thought swearing was fun.

What does surprise me about the child heroes in King’s world–and that of many authors who use kids in their books–is how smart they are. And courageous. And the ability they have to keep their cools under incredible pressure. Of course, I do know children who are smarter and more courageous than many adults, but still . . . I guess Stephen King pulls it off, but it does seem unbelievable to me at times.

As for Ol’Gaffer’s comment–what’s so unbelievable about a killer clown living in a storm drain? Where do you think they live, in a condo somewhere? :wink: