Sunday, April 9, 2017

THE F WORD

The word does not appear in my 1963 copy of Webster’s International Dictionary of the English language. Nor does it appear in the 1977 edition of Roget’s Thesaurus or in Black’s Law Dictionary.

It does, however, appear in more recently published resources. The Urban Dictionary, for example, contains a complete discussion of the word, its etymology, and the various ways in which the word is used as a noun, a verb, an adjective or an adverb.

It is, I suppose, a commentary on the changing American culture that the dictionary now contains a definition that mirrors the comedy routine made famous by George Carlin more than a generation ago.

Half a century ago, our oldest son, returning from a public swimming pool, asked his mother what the word meant. Fortunately, I had already explained sexual intercourse to him in an age-appropriate manner. She simply told him it was a crude and vulgar reference to the basic human reproductive function.

She suggested that when he heard people use that word, he should say a prayer for them.

I shutter to think of the amount of praying we would have to be doing these days to keep up with that admonition. Some enterprising soul has created a web site called “F Bomb” on which are traced Tweets world wide in search of various expressions of the word.

A map of the world displays another pin whenever new F Bomb is tweeted. There are pins from South Africa to the United Kingdom, but the busiest part of the world is the eastern section of the United States. And, of course, California.

Of particular note to Web Watchers, like myself, is the frequency of F—ing and F---ers that appear in blog commentary. It seems that every time a writer publishes an opinion on any subject from politics to football, someone will take exception and enhance their comment with an F bomb or two.

It is the surest way to terminate any attempt to maintain a rational discussion or debate.

The Urban dictionary tells us that a principal use of the word is to express emotion; to emphasize; to reinforce the impact of a word or a sentence.

The pity, of course, is that the word replaces all of the expressive and powerful English words and phrases that once made our native tongue the envy of writers and composers. The unhappy result is that this single multipurpose word is dumbing down our nation.

There was a day when one might have excoriated a neighbor as annoying, aggravating, exasperating, vexatious, bothersome, a pest, an annoyance, even a pain in the neck. Today’s one-size-fits-all colloquial assessment, would probably be something like: “He’s a dumb fuck.”

For the post-millennial generation the ubiquitous F bomb says it all, whether ‘it’ is good, bad or indifferent. Along with the mindless repetition of the word “like” it has become a hallmark for the numbing of the American brain.

The entertainment industry, the prodigal offspring of a stage once dedicated to uplifting the human experience, has embraced the F bomb culture and given it the secular imprimatur that insinuates it into daily life from the Saint Lawrence to the Santa Margarita.

I first came upon the frequent use of the word when, as a college student, I was working in a stone yard. It was hard, manual labor, and the men in the yard were older than I, and veterans of WWII. Their language reflected the men-only culture of the draft-populated military.

Lots of young men learned to use the word in the service. When my older brother Terry, of sainted memory, came home on leave from the Navy, he
had already – in boot camp – acquired some of the jargon of a sailor.

At one family dinner he casually asked me to pass the f….kin potatoes. 

If anyone else around the table heard it, they didn’t let on. For my part, I was left to wonder whether potatoes simply grew out of the ground, or whether they were the product of some sort of vegetable copulation he had learned about at the Great Lakes Naval Base in Racine, Wisconsin.

8 comments:

  1. It is too bad this word has made its way into everyday conversations. I have heard it all over the world.

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  2. I sort of took Mom's advice for the past 50 years ... I said a prayer every time I used it! Unfortunately these days, like smoking, swearing is a vice of many in the lower socioeconomic class.

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  3. I love the last line! And, good point about the geographic distribution of this word. I live in Texas, and have gone for long periods of time without ever hearing it. But I complained to a friend who has moved to LA about how common the F word is in movies, saying I didn't know anyone who talked like that—and he said that, sadly, people in LA really do talk like that. Maybe the red state/blue state divide corresponds to a linguistic divide as well.

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  4. I have de-friended two people I've known them for over 20 years, on Facebook (husband and wife no less) for using that word to me. There is no excuse for using the word in public discourse.

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  5. I have to say Judge, It's all about the "changing times" and all about these F....Yankees coming down hea in the South telling us how Dumb we rebels are......

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  6. Stan: If the F word has any "proper" use, it is as humor. Knowing how fond you are of your yankee friends, you have obviously used it humorously.

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  7. When I was a high school teacher I did not tolerate the F word being used in my classroom. I told them only unintelligent people use the word, because they have a limited vocabulary. Unfortunately, The F word is used in all of the media which seems to indicate it is acceptable. Don't see that changing. Sad.

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  8. My kids have picked it up and I institued a LAW in my house letting them know, "not in this house and especially not in my presence!" The new husband of my daughter is getting better at not slipping. However, I like the idea of praying for people when I do hear it. I believe I shall begin this practice.
    In the meantime, how are you doing? I keep you in my prayers. Please keep us informed of your RECOVERY.

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