THE “F” WORD: no longer restricted to locker room conversation

I don’t think of myself as a prude.   Granted, I do represent a generation in which ballroom dancing, etiquette classes, and other demonstrations of a more “straight-laced” society prevailed.   I still open doors for women, give up my seat when appropriate, and walk on the outside of the sidewalk when my wife is with me.  Those things are ingrained in me … and they seem correct.   I don’t find it necessary to abandon such habits in the name of contemporary social adjustments.

But the issue of crude language is a tough one for me.  Don’t get me wrong.  More than a few four letter words have escaped my lips.  And, yes, I have uttered the “F” word, although I think I could count the number of times over the course of my life.  Even as a college kid it was an uncomfortable thing for me to say.

The recent increase in the use of the “F” word in public is jarring to me.   It’s no longer restricted to crude guy talk over a few beers.  It is common among women, kids, parents, and professionals.   It isn’t whispered any more, and the frequency of use in public presentations on television is shocking to me.  The frequency of its use has brought about familiarity that seems to make it okay, although most television still bleeps it.   Not so in the movies.

I can rationalize its use as a generational thing, but my rationalizations are pretty thin.   It is clearly one of the four letter words that falls into the most sensitive category.   It is hardly the same as the hells, damns, and scatalogical terms that creep into language patterns quite easily.    I pay attention to the use of the “F” word and watch the face of the speaker and those being spoken to.   Most people don’t react at all; it is clearly acceptable.   Some people cringe or drop their heads.   Occasionally someone will express dissatisfaction with the use of the term … but not often.   Clearly, those of us who find it offensive are no longer in the majority.

As a writer (and reader) I find its use to be common and taken for granted.   In fact, I wonder if a modern novel would get any readership if the word wasn’t used early on at last once or twice.  Otherwise, the novel could be characterized as Victorian or archaic.  That’s a real “close the book and choose another” in this day and age.

Stand-up comedians claim ownership of the “F” word. George Carlin, the late dean of stand-up comedy, glorified the use of foul language and became known for its use.  His routine was aimed at giving permission for the use of language that was otherwise unacceptable in public discourse.    He was a very funny man, but I came to a point where I could not tolerate his routine.

The most difficult use of foul language in my realm of encounters is in professional settings where a presenter feels free to unleash strings of loose language.   A presenter or trainer seems to have no problem in using four letter words … even the “F” word … in front of mixed generations, genders, and levels of professional acclaim.  It seems unnecessary and distracting to me (and others with whom I speak) and interferes with my ascribing respect to the presenter.   Sorry about that; it’s true.   Swearing, especially at the extreme level, seems juvenile and anti-intellectual to me in that setting.  It is disrespectful of those in the audience who might be offended by its use, and I think professional presenters should pay attention to that issue.

I’m in an advanced writing class right now, and the “F” word is common.   Somehow, I’ve come to the understanding that it’s part of the writing profession, and my reaction to it may be inappropriate.   I can grant that rationalization, but I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t jarred by it.  I have experimented with using the word in writing small exercises, but it is artificial and uncomfortable for me.  I suspect this is one area where I won’t work hard at becoming current.

There are a number of euphemisms which have crept into contemporary American English, such as friggin’, “F-in”, and freakin’.   I guess that are all designed to give permission for the concept of the use of the F word in a more acceptable form.   Even my use of  “the F word” in this blog posting is the same thing.   You all know what the other three letters are in the unspoken word.  I’m not fooling anyone.  Even a child would understand that at this point in history.

Exactly why the F word fits into the meaning of the sentence escapes me.  It is clearly intended to be a shock word, because its basic meaning is miles away from the intention of the sentence.  I think there is a literary laziness in its use.

But, then again, I’m not 25 years old and a product of a more relaxed generation.   I understand that.  Just don’t expect me not to react when you use the word in conversation with me.  In spite of everything I’ve said, it’s still offensive.


Illustration Credit: Baker

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