(I haven’t read the book in question, but it reminded me of something from my last batch of copy-edits.)
In the original draft of DEMON BOUND, Jake has this line (talking to Drifter about Alice’s husband):
Husband? More like a cocksucking crybaby.
Copy edits came back and it looked like this:
Husband? More like a
With a note that said: Might be read as homophobic.
And I was like, what? Because to me, it’s always been a stronger version of “asshole” or “bitch” (and gender-unspecific). So I thought about changing it back … then decided, okay, I won’t. Anyone who has followed Jake’s character probably knows he’s not homophobic, but if it can be read that way, why introduce the issue?*
But “big” was not going to work. It wasn’t angry enough. So it became:
Husband? More like a
cocksucking bigfucking crybaby.
*If Jake was saying this directly to Alice’s husband, and Jake knew that Alice’s husband would be additionally insulted by the suggestion that he is gay (Alice’s husband would have been), then it’d probably have stayed as originally written. (Of course, that is only after I learned it could be read as homophobic; before then, this option would never have occurred to me, either.)
It all comes down to character and context for me. In this case, “cocksucking” didn’t do anything that “fucking” couldn’t, and might have suggested more than I intended. But if the circumstances were right, there is no word I wouldn’t let my characters use.
After all that, I read SALVATION IN DEATH and noticed Roarke calling someone a cocksucker (or it was used as an adjective; I can’t remember exactly — I just remember laughing when I read it.) But again — I can’t see Roarke as homophobic, so I’ve never read it from him that way, either. I still don’t, but I understand that someone with a different experience might, and think of Roarke differently because of it.
That, of course, is out of anyone but the reader’s hands. I wouldn’t expect Robb to write Roarke differently now that I am more aware of it, any more than I’d expect a book called COCKSUCKER IN DEATH.
…I’d still buy it.