A Very Sweary Dictionary

Kia Thomas (Pear & Bear Publishing, 2020), 88pp, £5.99
ISBN 978 1838 226 40 4

Reviewed by Hannah McCall

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A Very Sweary Dictionary is a style guide for swear words. Kia Thomas has the distinction of being regarded by many in the editing community as a go-to authority on swearing, and she’s continuing to build that reputation with this book.

The subtitle makes it very clear what you are getting yourself into: From abso-f**king-lutely to w**kstain: an essential, if somewhat impolite, style guide. It therefore shouldn’t be a surprise that it contains strong language and adult themes. The focus is on British English style choices, but it does touch on US English too.

Kia Thomas has a relaxed and engaging style, and her wit is present throughout this little book (it won’t take up much room on your bookshelf). This is a style guide rather than an in-depth exploration of the words themselves, but if you are looking for that sort of information there are some resources for further reading given towards the end of the book.

The guide begins with some good advice on how to approach the editing of swearing. This isn’t an exhaustive list of swears – it would be a task to include every profanity in existence – so Kia Thomas shares her general principles for how to style compound swear words. This is probably one of the most helpful parts of the guide – the suggested guidelines can be taken by the reader and applied to whatever profanities they may find themselves tackling in the future. Each entry has a short definition followed by a brief discussion of the styling considerations. Many of the entries see the styling principles discussed on the basis of word class. This approach is particularly helpful as it gives examples of how to apply the style guidelines and thus demonstrates how they could apply to similar words that might crop up in the wild.

The reasoning throughout is, in my opinion, all entirely sound and sensible. One of the key criteria – whether the word ‘looks weird’ or not – might seem a little flippant on the face of it, but I am in support of the author’s message on this: ‘Making things easier on the reader is never wrong.’

This is a succinct and useful guide to the styling of swear words, and something that fiction editors in particular may find reassuring to have near their desk.

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